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US senators warn against Iran trade if sanctions removed

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A group of US senators says any agreement that does not receive their support will not survive if a Republican is elected president in 2024.

A group of US senators has sent a letter to the international business community, warning companies against resuming trade with Iran if the Biden administration removes sanctions on Tehran to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal.

The letter signed by 15 Republican senators is the latest instance of the US bullying of world countries, which came to a head under the former Trump administration after it abandoned the UN-endorsed nuclear accord and unleashed the most inhuman sanctions ever on the Islamic Republic.

The threat comes as the remaining signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are discussing in Vienna how to untangle the complex web of the US sanctions and craft a road map back to the deal.

"Your member companies may see this potential removal of US sanctions on Iran as a lucrative opportunity. Trust us, they should not," the letter to major business and financial groups, drafted by Senators James Lankford and Tom Cotton, reads.

"If US sanctions on Iran were temporarily lifted and these firms decided to re-enter the Iranian market… they would be investing in ventures doomed to fail."

The letter was reportedly sent to the US Chamber of Commerce, the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Australian Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Switzerland, the SWIFT Board of Directors, the European Bankers Association, and the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU. 

It begins by criticizing the JCPOA that former president Barack Obama negotiated with Iran and other world countries in 2015. Former president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement and pursued a strategy of "maximum pressure" to force Iran back to the negotiation table for a better agreement, but to no avail.  

"Since the JCPOA was not a legally binding instrument under US or international law, the sanctions waived in the JCPOA were reimposed by the United States in 2018, resulting in more than 100 international companies and organizations terminating or curtailing business with the Iranian government to avoid US sanctions," the senators boasted.

They also celebrated the pain and damage which the draconian sanctions caused to the international companies as well as the Iranian economy and its people.

"Several foreign business entities and individuals who continued to do business with Iran were sanctioned, leading to massive financial losses that forced some businesses to permanently shut down. The US Department of Justice has also filed charges against individuals who seek to circumvent US sanctions, confiscating their assets and seeking significant criminal sentences against offenders. 

"As a result of this maximum pressure approach, Iran's GDP shrank by six percent in 2018 and nearly seven percent in 2019. The Iranian Rial, which traded at roughly 40,000-to-one against the US dollar in early 2018, traded at over 300,000-to-one late last year. Iranian oil production decreased more than half, with Iran's oil exports decreasing by over 90 percent through late last year," the senators claimed.   

They said "any attempt by the Biden administration to broker a JCPOA-like deal or offer sanctions relief to the Iranian government will be fleeting".

"Any agreement that does not receive the broad and bipartisan support of Congress will not survive if a Republican is elected president in 2024. Any sanctions relief will also be severely limited if Republicans win back majorities in Congress in 2022."

EU companies face Iran's legal action

The sanctions have hobbled European efforts to do business with Iran amid companies' reluctance to risk retribution from the United States.

A legal opinion handed down Wednesday by a top EU court advisor stated that European companies doing business with Iran could face legal troubles if they have terminated their contracts with Iranian banks or firms solely because of fears about possible US sanctions.

The Europeans have largely eschewed trade with Iran despite a “blocking statute” introduced by the EU to shield companies in the 27-nation bloc from the sanctions.

EU Advocate General Gerard Hogan, quoted by the Associated Press, said Wednesday that European companies should justify why they are cutting business ties with Iranian banks and enterprises to prove they aren’t simply caving in to US pressure. 

His legal guidance comes as the European Court of Justice considers a lawsuit brought by Iran's biggest lender Bank Melli against Germany's Telekom Deutschland for ending its contract with the Iranian bank’s branch in Hamburg without providing a reason.

The Luxembourg-based court is likely to rule on the case in coming months, taking its cue from Hogan's legal guidance as it often does, the AP reported.

According to Hogan, "it is for Telekom Deutschland to establish that there was an objective reason — other than the fact that Bank Melli Iran was subject to primary sanctions — which justified the termination of the contracts at issue”.

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