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Last week I wrote about the New York Times article which slammed The United States Department of the Treasury and the Office of Foreign Assets Control for providing licenses under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) to individuals seeking to trade in agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran. This attack on the TSRA program was something that Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey could not abide. Therefore, he responded with a letter to the Editor of the New York Times; a letter that was republished on The United States Department of the Treasury’s blog: Treasury Notes.

According to Levey, “…the Treasury Department had no discretion to deny authorizations in the large majority of cases reviewed by the article.” This is because Congress through TSRA allowed for the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices. While this is true, Levey’s more poignant point was made when he stated:

“More generally, the article misses the forest for the trees. While reasonable people can debate whether certain items like chewing gum or salad dressing should be within the scope of the exemptions mandated by Congress, no credible observer believes that the export of a modest amount of food, medicine and other humanitarian items undermines our ability to pressure the Iranian regime.”

Well stated by the modern architect of U.S. economic sanctions. Although I don’t always agree with Mr. Levey or with the actions of OFAC, he is right in this regard; permitting such exports to Iran is not effecting the United States’ ability to deal with Iran. Moreover, it is my belief that prohibiting such exports would actually be contradictory to U.S. interests and to the spirit of Iran sanctions. As I mentioned in my blog posting last week a point being missed entirely by the New York Times article is the legacy that sanctions will leave behind. Even if the Islamic Republic fell tomorrow and the sanctions were removed, surely, Iranians will remember suffering under the weight of U.S. economic sanctions for the last 15 some years. How that will play into the stance towards the U.S. of any future government there could be problematic; even more so if OFAC had not been licensing exports of things such as agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices. To say that electing to authorize exports of such articles is the result of choosing business interests over foreign policy considerations is absurd.

Although surprised that Treasury responded, I’m glad to see that they did. The New York Times article was unfair and misleading. While I applaud Treasury’s actions here, I’m sure myself and others in this field would like to see the blog used for more informative and educational purposes. As many readers of this blog know, blogs can be an important tool for educating and providing guidance on certain issues. It is my hope that Treasury will use their blog for that purpose as well and we see some solid guidance on OFAC issues come from it.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in OFAC litigation. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or ferrari@ferrari-legal.com.

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