6-29-16 – Iran Buying American Boeings

by John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—It’s a deal! The Islamic Republic of Iran is set to buy 100 American made Boeing civilian airliners for a price tag near $25 billion. The sale which has been quietly in the works for some months now, can be directly linked to last Summer’s Iran nuclear accord reached in Vienna by the United States and five other powers which in effect trades Tehran’s presumed nuclear transparency for a lifting of stifling economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Why am I not surprised?

So here we see the business bottom line to the nuclear accord; opening Iran’s alluring marketplace to the flood of commerce from America, Europe and the Far East. The final step came back in January after the Obama Administration gave a green light to formally lift sanctions on sales to Iran’s civil aviation.

The landmark agreement is the biggest business deal between Iran and the USA since 1979 when the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini toppled the reformist rule of the Shah installing a radical anti-American regime whose heirs remain in power to this day.

The aircraft are slated for the national airline Iran Air, the oldest airline in the Middle East and once a top notch civilian carrier whose fleet has aged and needs serious renovation. Most of the new passenger planes will be long range 777’s or leased short range 737’s. Currently most of Iran Air’s fleet consists of pre-1980 Boeings and twenty newer but second hand Airbus craft.

Naturally, the Chicago-based Boeing adds the usual legal caveat,   “Boeing will continue to follow the lead of the U.S. government with regards to working with Iran’s airlines, and any and all contracts with Iran’s airlines will be contingent upon U.S. government approval.”

But let’s be frank: opening the lucrative Iranian market, especially the near U.S. dominated aircraft sales sector, was one of Washington’s key objectives in last year’s nuclear agreement between five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in which the Islamic Republic purportedly stopped its nuclear weapons program in return for a lifting of sanctions. The European consortium Airbus also plans to sell planes to Iran.

Why expansion now? Iran Air is now looking to widen its route network beyond the Middle East and Europe to include the USA, Canada, and Australia. Plans include serving the huge Iranian diaspora which fled after the 1979 revolution and are numerous in California and New York as well as an expected surge of other American tourists which are expected to visit this ancient land once relations improve.   Though there’s a growing potential among Iranian-Americans based on nostalgia, there’s little doubt that Iran Air which brands itself as “the Airline of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” clearly needs to remake its slogan and image.

Iran Air continued to fly its routes to the USA even after the revolution but service was suspended after Islamic militants seized and trashed the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 leading to the subsequent Hostage Crisis during the Carter Administration.

Not surprisingly, there’s growing opposition to a Boeing deal with the national airline of a state sponsor of global terrorism, a supplier of troops and weapons to the regime side in the Syrian civil war, not to mention a flagrant persecutor of its own people.

Congressman Peter Roskam R-IL, stated that members of Congress from both Illinois and Washington State where Boeing has its manufacturing facilities, nonetheless oppose the deal and shall try to block it. “If this moves forward, Boeing and terror will be intertwined,” he stated adamantly.

Congressman Roskam added, “It’s tragic to watch such an ionic American company make such a terribly short-sited decision. If Boeing goes through with this deal, the company will forever be associated with Iran’s chief export: radical Islamic terrorism.”   In his “No Dollars for Ayatollahs Act,” introduced by Rep. Roskam, the congressman stresses in a statement, “My bill will prevent Iran from accessing U.S. dollars in any manner by imposing a 100% excise tax on any transactions which directly or indirectly enable the Islamic Republic to make financial transactions in American currency.”

The U.S. State Department continues to list Iran as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

Naturally, there’s plenty of rationalization in the Obama Administration about creating American jobs and exports never mind assisting what Washington likes to imagine as a reformist Rohani government in Tehran as trying to open to the West after years of sanctions and isolation.

Yet there’s a touch of irony too for any new Boeings flying to Iran; they will be landing at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.

 John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.

 

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