The Biden administration on Friday lifted sanctions against three former Iranian officials and two companies that did business in Iran with its oil companies.
Administration officials insisted the sanctions relief was routine and merited by a “verified change in behavior or status on the part of the sanctioned parties,” but the action was widely interpreted by the media as a signal to Tehran that Biden is ready to make further concessions to reverse President Donald Trump’s exit from the nuclear deal.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the U.S. Treasury Department announced Thursday it had lifted sanctions from National Iranian Oil Company managing director Ahmad Ghalebani, Hong Kong Intertrade Company managing director Farzad Bazargan, and Naftiran Intertrade Company Sarl commercial director Mohammad Moinie.
It also partially lifted sanctions on the Sea Charming Shipping Company Ltd. and Aoxing Ship Management Shanghai Ltd.
The Obama administration listed Ghalebani and Bazargan for sanctions in 2013 when it took action against 20 individuals and entities for “their involvement in Iran’s nuclear and missile proliferation networks and Iran’s continued attempts to circumvent sanctions.” The Hong Kong Intertrade Company was also part of that May 2013 action.
The Naftiran Intertrade Company was hit with secondary sanctions in January 2020 for “engaging in transactions involving Iran’s petroleum sector.” The Treasury Department said those transactions helped to “finance Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and its terrorist proxies.”
The IRGC is a designated terrorist organization. The Qods Force is the IRGC’s dirty tricks squad for spreading Iran’s malevolent influence beyond its borders, through activities such as arming and training terrorist groups such as the Shiite militias of Iraq. The Qods Force was headed by Gen. Qassem Soleimani until he was killed while operating on Iraqi soil by a U.S. airstrike in January 2020.
Mohammed Moinie, the Switzerland-based commercial director for Naftiran Intertrade Company Sarl, was placed under sanctions in September 2013 for helping the Iranian government evade oil sanctions.
State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked about the sanctions relief at a press conference Thursday, with reporters noting the abrupt removal of Obama-era sanctions came as a surprise.
Price responded by touting other sanctions the Biden administration has imposed recently, such as action taken against Iranians who were funneling money to the Houthi insurgents in Yemen. He was evasive about the reasons for lifting the older sanctions, eventually stating the three individuals and two companies were delisted in response to a routine “petition” in a “routine practice consistent with sanctions hygiene.”
Price deflected more probing questions about the sanctions relief, insisting the petition and sanctions hygiene process was “a very technical process that takes place at the Department of the Treasury.” He implied media speculation that the sanctions were lifted as a negotiations overture to Iran was “wrong.”
The Treasury Department was not much more informative, echoing Price’s assertions about the Iranian entities changing their behavior but not explaining how. A Treasury spokesperson told Al-Arabiya News on Thursday that Ghalebani, Bazargan, and Moinie are “no longer in their position within entities affiliated with the Government of Iran,” so there was no reason to maintain the sanctions against them.