As the Islamic Republic of Iran continues efforts secure financing for its purchase of Boeing aircraft, members of the U.S. Congress are ramping up pressure to make sure Tehran stops the use of commercial planes to transport weapons and fighters across the Middle East.
Iran has ordered 50 narrow-body Boeing 737 passenger jets and 30 wide-body 777 aircraft was secured in December 2016. The Office of Foreign Assets Control has issued licenses for Boeing to deliver the planes, but such licenses can be easily revoked if reason is found that the transaction can have undesirable consequences.
Senator David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Representative Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) want to make sure that if Boeing delivers planes to Iran, they will not be used to ferry weapons and fighters to Syria.
President Donald Trump, who has refused to certify Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, has also said that he has not made up his mind about the Boeing deal.
Iranian officials indicated that Boeing executives are scheduled to visit Tehran next week to continue discussions about possible sales.
The lawmakers made sure that in the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, signed into law this week, there is a requirement that the U.S. government begin providing Congress with an annual report on Iran’s use of commercial planes, to determine if they are being used for illicit purposes.
Sen. Perdue told The Washington Free Beacon "Iran Air has been using their sanctions relief money from Obama's nuclear deal to fly weapons, material, and fighters directly into Syria...We need a closer look into how Iran is propping up the murderous Assad regime…As President Trump determines how it will proceed with regard to these commercial aircraft sales, a new reporting requirement included in the defense bill he signed into law today will help give us a better look at Iran's nefarious behavior."
State Department officials told Free Beacon that Iran’s use of commercial aircraft for terror purposes is extremely concerning.
They added that the administration’s position on the issue of aircraft sales is clear: “We will not issue export licenses unless we are convinced the aircraft will be used exclusively for civilian passenger aviation.” State Department indicated if the U.S. determine that any “licensed aircraft or services have been used for purposes other than exclusively commercial passenger end-use, or have transferred to sanctioned persons, we reserved the right under the JCPOA to cease issuing – or to revoke – aircraft licenses…We have made this point clear to Iran and other JCPOA participants."
Rep. Roskam, who led the measure in the House, said in a statement, “Those planning to sell aircraft to the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism should strongly reconsider. Beyond the photographic evidence of Iran Air transporting jihadists, Congress will now receive an annual government report on Iran’s use of commercial jets to ship troops and weapons to Syria. Selling Iran Air planes it can use to sew death and destruction around the Middle East is not only a risky business decision, it is immoral.”
Iran denies the charge that it uses commercial aircraft for supplying war efforts. Tehran says that it has been sending “advisors” to Syria with civilian aircraft but not weapons.
In 2012, the German broadcaster ZDF aired a report based on information from Western security sources, implicating Iran Air and Yas Air in weapons shipments to Syria.
Since then, numerous Iranian officials have boasted of their impact in Syria and how they have stopped “terrorists” from overrunning the country. Hundreds of Iranian soldiers and Afghan militia members killed in Syria have been publicly buried in Iran.
Before leaving office, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck a deal with Iraq to force Iranian overflights to land and be searched, before they would cross Iraqi airspace into Syria. But very few flights were searched by Iraqis.
In March 2011, Turkish officials intercepted a Yas airline flight that was carrying weapons and explosives to Damascus.
Now with purchase of Boeing and Airbus aircraft the question is if Iran’s capabilities will be boosted in current and future military interventions beyond its borders.
Tehran is already under the microscope in many respects and besides U.S. licensing requirement, financing for the purchase of dozens of planes is a big uncertainty.
The head of public relations for Iran’s main government owned airline company, announced on Tuesday that Tehran prefers to rely on domestic financing for its deal with Boeing.
This is after an Iranian delegation visited Austria recently to discuss financing. Although Iran claims it has good prospects to secure foreign financing, but the announcement about relying on domestic sources is an indication that Iran anticipates roadblocks to international finance.