News / Middle East

New Iran Sanctions Tighten Controls on Consumer Goods

Arash Arabasadi

Iran's government faces yet another new round of sanctions.  "CISADA"  -  the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act -  was signed by U.S. President Barak Obama in July, and is scheduled to go into effect by September 29. 

For more than 30 years the United States has led the charge in sanctions against Iran, justifying them most recently by its suspicions about Iran's nuclear program.  Every Iranian leader from Ayatollah Ruhollah  Khomeini to Hashemi Rafsanjani has endured round after round of sanctions … only to remain defiant in the face of Western influence.  Loopholes have enabled commercial trade to continue but those loopholes now appear to be tightening.

Undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury Stuart Levey leads the office tasked with cutting the lines of financial support to international terrorists, Weapons of Mass Destruction proliferators, and other threats to national security.  At a Washington news conference, Levey linked the new sanctions against Iran to homeland security in the United States.

"Given the strong public record regarding Iran's illicit and deceptive activities, the operating presumption should be that virtually all transactions or financial services involving Iran could contribute to its nuclear or missile programs," he said.

Pistachio nuts
Pistachio nuts

But these new sanctions apply tighter controls than before on such consumer goods as Persian rugs and pistachio nuts - affecting both Iranian exporters and American importers.

Trial lawyer Erich Ferrari, a member of the Iranian-American Bar Association, says in that respect, the new sanctions may miss their mark. "Why rugs?  What are rugs going to do?  It's not as if the government of Iran is selling so many rugs that they're going to fuel their nuclear program behind it," said Ferrari.

Some Iranian-Americans agree. "These big governments, with sanctions, never hurt each other.  They only hurt the common people," said a man.

"I think that the embargo hurts the people.  If you stop selling foods or medicine to Iran, that will hurt the people," said another one.

Medicine may not actually be an issue.  Levey says the sanctions are not designed to withhold medicine as a bargaining chip, and that medical supplies will flow unobstructed. "Most countries in the discussions have led to arrangements being setup to ensure that that can continue to happen," he said.

And Ferrari says that sanctions in the past were later amended with a "general license" that allowed the continued, commercial trade of consumer goods.  He says that such an amendment remains a possibility.

"I would not be surprised by that.  They've said they won't, but who knows what the future will hold. With allowing those imports to come in, you're basically freeing up Iranian businesspeople to go back to doing what they do in the community, which is selling rugs, foodstuffs, those sort of items," he said.

Levey says the sanctions are not intended to hurt common people. "We hope that those that are inadvertently inconvenienced by those measures understand that it's the conduct of the government of Iran that is causing that inconvenience to them.  It's never an entirely perfect enterprise," he said.

Still, some Iranian-Americans remain concerned that the sanctions may put many businesspeople - both in Iran and in the U.S. - out of business.

"Those things will not help them to convince the government to stop nuclear power.  In terms of selling goods, I don't think this will help," said Behzad.

Eirch Ferrari of the Iranian-American Bar Association says, "Over the past 10 years, they've built these businesses up and they're profitable and successful, and the Iranian community supports these businesses. And now, they stand to lose everything."

With the latest round of sanctions just days away … the future seems uncertain for Iranians and Iranian-Americans on either side of the debate.  But at least one businessman, Abdi Parvizian, is taking a philosophical viewpoint.

"I am a businessman,"  he said. "If I can't sell rugs I'll sell couches.  If I can't sell couches I'll sell lamps.  After all, a businessman will find some sort of business."

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