New Evidence of Sanctions-Busting Iran-Turkey Cooperation Complicates White House Sanctions Position

The Commerce Department scrambled yesterday to issue what Reuters described as “a rare emergency order” designed to block a Turkish-based company from illegally passing along two U.S.-built commercial jet engines to Iran’s Pouya airline. The broad order – which names multiple companies and would impose crippling consequences for any violations – comes amid deepening concern that extensive cooperation between Ankara and Tehran has allowed the Islamic republic to skirt international sanctions designed to force Iran to change its stance on its nuclear program.

Assistant Commerce Secretary David Mills, who oversees export enforcement, signed the order on Friday after learning that Turkish-based 3K Aviation Consulting & Logistics planned to re-export two engines built by General Electric Co to Iran on Tuesday using Pouya Airline, an Iranian cargo airline.

The order, which will be in effect for 180 days, includes sweeping consequences for 3K Aviation, Pouya Airline and Adaero International Trade, the Illinois-based company that the department said had shipped the used aircraft engines to Turkey. The order bans all three companies and their key officers from engaging in negotiations, trade, transport or other activities involving any U.S. export-controlled items, not just the aircraft engines in question. The order also applies to banks, insurance companies and other parties that might be involved in financing or otherwise supporting any such transactions.

The Daily Beast assessed in late December that the open political warfare shaking Turkey – which has pitted elites in the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party against followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen – “could destabilize [President Barack] Obama’s nuclear deal and threaten the government of Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan.” Judiciary figures linked to Gulen are pursuing a corruption probe that has already ensnared AKP elites, and that unearthed an oil-for-cash scheme between Tehran and Ankara that – per the Daily Beast – “may only be start of more uncomfortable disclosures about Iranian dealings in Turkey.” Fully one-sixth of companies that began investing in Turkey in 2013 were backed by Iranian money, and Turkish outlet Zaman outlined over the weekend how Turkey and Iran building mechanisms to further boost their cooperation in the coming weeks and months.

“When Rouhani became the Iranian president, Turkey and Iran decided to communicate frequently, if possible every month, to discuss our mutual agendas and exchange views. I can say that we have accomplished this in the past five months,” Davutoğlu said. Rouhani was elected last June…Davutoğlu said Turkey would like to increase its trade volume with Iran in the next two years, targeting $30 billion. He added that trade volume can even increase to $50 billion if legal issues can be worked out.

The domestic political stakes in the United States are fairly straightforward. A bipartisan group of senators recently introduced legislation that would boost U.S. leverage in negotiations with Iran by codifying future sanctions should Iran either cheat during an upcoming six-month negotiation period or, after negotiations conclude, refuse to put its nuclear program verifiably beyond use for weaponization. The Obama administration has fiercely fought the legislation, insisting that the remaining sanctions against Iran are sufficient and holding. Evidence that Iran is able to successfully maneuver around international sanctions is likely to deepen skepticism toward the White House’s position.

[Photo: 1atheo / YouTube]