Not So Fast, Boeing and Iran

By Jonathan S. Tobin

Commentary Magazine

June 15, 2016


It’s likely that there’s some celebrating going on at the Boeing Company’s Chicago headquarters due to the news that Iran has reached a deal with the company for the purchase of new passenger airplanes. This is the first major transaction between the Islamist regime and an American business since the conclusion of the nuclear pact between the West and Tehran. But it won’t be the last if advocates of détente with Iran within the Obama administration have their way. That is the significance of the deal.  And that is why Congress should take a break from its normal role as cheerleaders for American businesses and investigate this new relationship to ensure that Boeing isn’t violating sanctions that are still in place against Iranian entities.

Administration officials had promised Congress that the Iran deal was solely aimed at restraining Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and not part of a general push for détente. But that claim was just one of several falsehoods promulgated to make the deal seem reasonable. President Obama’s goal was to allow Iran “to get right with the world,” and that meant breaking down all the barriers set up to isolate a pariah terrorist state.

One of the least reported aspects of the deal was that, though international sanctions were lifted, U.S. restrictions on doing business with Iran remained in place. As a result,  Iranian entities were forbidden to use dollars and it is still against the law for American companies to do business with the many Iranian companies and individuals associated with Tehran’s terror network or owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

But hidden in the details of Obama’s deal was a major exception to U.S. sanctions, one that allows U.S. companies to sell “commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran.” This exception has allowed Boeing to join in the gold rush European companies—including its competitor, Airbus—are making for Iranian cash now in the post-sanctions era. The administration was not only doing a big favor for both Iran and Boeing; it was also creating a precedent that would serve as a wedge to undermine any remaining resistance to the normalization of relations with Iran.

If concluded, the Boeing transaction will create a new broader constituency for appeasing Iran no matter what it does. Any attempt to re-impose isolation on the regime for nuclear violations, regional aggression, or terrorism (it remains, as the State Department recently reasserted, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror) would run into a buzzsaw of opposition from all those who benefit from Boeing’s prosperity and their representatives in Congress. That’s a factor that would deter any future president—even one that promises to reassess what was a very bad deal with Iran—from scaling back ties.

The answer to this clever stratagem from Congress should be to say “not so fast.”

As Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told theNew York Times, despite the exception for aircraft sales in the text of the nuclear deal, much of Iran’s civilian aviation industry is run by companies linked to or run by the IRGC, which also operates the regime’s terror network. Business with the IRGC and everything related to it is still very much against U.S. law and nothing in the Iran deal supersedes that fact. As Dubowitz notes, that makes any Boeing-Iran transaction a “due-diligence nightmare” for any U.S. companies as well as the banks that will also be involved.

Given the high stakes involved, there is little doubt that the administration will be doing all it can to smooth the path for Boeing and to halt or sidetrack any annoying Treasury Department scrutiny that would highlight illegal activity.

That’s where Congress must step in. Despite the understandable desire of members of the House and Senate that will have constituents eager to have the Iran transaction bring jobs to their districts and states, the issue here isn’t employment but terror and U.S. security.

The regime’s behavior hasn’t changed a bit despite the president’s desire to welcome it into the family of nations. Their illegal missile tests and ongoing support for international terror give the lie to the White House spin machine’s myths about moderates taking over in Tehran, as did the recent election of more hardliners to ensure that the regime stays in the hands of the most extreme Islamist theocrats.

With the help of a largely tame Washington press corps, party-line loyalty from Democrats, and the help of a few foolish Republicans, Congress failed to stop the Iran nuclear deal. But by speaking up now, the legislative branch can still throw a monkey wrench into a deal that would put one of America’s most important aviation companies in bed with Iran’s terror network.