Boeing's Art of the Iran Deal

How to Use Civilian Aircraft to Pressure the Regime

A dismantled Airbus A300 is seen through a window of a Boeing 747 in the recycling yard of Air Salvage International (ASI) in Kemble, central England November 27, 2013. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

Last week, representatives from Boeing visited Tehran to hammer out the details of a proposed multibillion-dollar sale of commercial aircraft to Iran. The possible sale of these planes has sparked fierce debate in the U.S. Congress, with many on both sides of the aisle rightly concerned that the Iranian government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) may use these planes to send arms and illicit goods to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces or to the international terrorist group Hezbollah. With the Senate prepared in the next few weeks to consider legislation on this topic and the Treasury Department poised to provide Boeing (as well as Airbus, which reached its own deal with Iran earlier this year) the necessary permission to proceed with the sale, the fight appears headed for a second round.

Critics of Boeing’s and Airbus’ sales are justifiably focused on the risks: in 2011, the U.S. Treasury added Iran Air, the proposed recipient of the aircraft, to the Specially Designated Nationals list because of its work on behalf of the IRGC. (The list identifies organizations and individuals that the U.S. government believes are involved in terrorism.) Although the airline was delisted as part of last summer’s nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran Air planes have been implicated in sanctions evasion and have flown known weapons resupply routes to Syria as recently as June.

Nevertheless, the United States appears to be obligated to allow the sale of these aircraft to Iran under certain conditions. Annex 2 of the JCPOA, which identifies key concessions the United States and its partners agreed to grant Iran in exchange for limits on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, specifies that “the United States commits to allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran . . . provided that licensed items and services are used exclusively for commercial passenger aviation.”

An Iran Air Boeing 747SP aircraft is pictured before leaving Tehran's Mehrabad airport September 19, 2011.
An Iran Air Boeing 747SP aircraft is pictured before leaving Tehran's Mehrabad airport September 19, 2011. Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters
But even if the United States is obligated to allow the

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