Blacklisted Iranian Airline Buys Planes


planeIranian news media reported Sunday that Mahan Air, blacklisted under U.S. sanctions, has bought nine used Airbus passenger planes that were placed into service last week. Mahan Air was sanctioned in October 2011 by the Treasury Department over the airline’s support for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and Hizbullah militants. Congressional critics of the nuclear talks contend that Iran cannot be trusted and is already openly flouting the sanctions.

With Plane Delivery, Iran Sanctions Collapsing Already

The U.S. has threatened to sanction Western companies that sell planes to Iran, although a prohibition against Iran acquiring airplane spare parts was lifted in an interim agreement signed with Iran at the end of 2013.

Abbas Akhoundi, Iran’s transportation minister, said Sunday that 15 planes had been acquired by Iran since February. Iranian media reported that the nine planes that arrived for Mahan Air used to be part of the Virgin Atlantic fleet. On Monday, the Financial Times reported that Western governments suspect Iraq’s Al-Naser Airlines to have been a front for Mahan to acquire the planes.

Some analysts said the transaction showed how the sanctions against Iran were collapsing. “Mahan Air’s case shows that U.S. sanctions no longer deter Western companies from doing big business with Iran,” said Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The administration must move quickly to punish those companies involved in this blatant breach of U.S. sanctions. Otherwise, the argument that sanctions are still largely intact and can always be snapped back in the future loses all credibility.”

Avi Jorisch, a former Treasury Department official who is now a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, said the purchase of the airplanes was a “gross violation” of the interim agreement. “Such moves weaken the U.S. government’s ability to negotiate and make a credible case that if a good deal is not signed, Iran’s economy will continue to suffer.”