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U.S. Approves Export Of Boeing And Airbus Planes To Iran

An Iran Air Boeing 747 passenger plane sits on the tarmac of the domestic Mehrabad airport in the Iranian capital Tehran in 2013.
Behrouz Mehri
AFP/Getty Images
An Iran Air Boeing 747 passenger plane sits on the tarmac of the domestic Mehrabad airport in the Iranian capital Tehran in 2013.

The U.S. Treasury Department has granted permission to Boeing and Airbus to export commercial planes to Iran, a Treasury spokesperson told NPR. The government has approved a deal — not yet finalized — for Boeing to sell IranAir 80 commercial passenger aircraft.

Thumbs-up from the Treasury is a major step forward on a key portion of last year's deal between Iran and six world powers including the U.S., in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from decades-long sanctions. That relief officially started in January, as we reported.

"These licenses contain strict conditions to ensure that the planes will be used exclusively for commercial passenger use and cannot be resold or transferred to a designated entity," the Treasury spokesperson said.

Boeing and Iran reached a $20 billion provisional agreement in late June for 80 aircraft, as NPR's Jackie Northam reported.

Since then, the Treasury has "spent months scrutinizing the deal to see what technology will be used on the planes, and whether anyone remaining on a U.S. sanctions list is involved in the deal," Jackie said.

She added that this marks the first time that Boeing has sold planes to Iran since its 1979 revolution. Jackie reports, "There is ferocious competition between Boeing and Airbus, and a good chance Boeing would be locked out of the Iranian market for decades if it didn't get this approval."

The new aircraft are a major step toward modernizing and expanding "the country's elderly fleet, held together by smuggled or improvised parts after years of sanctions," as Reuters reported.

The Treasury also granted Boeing's competitor Airbus a license to sell 17 aircraft to IranAir, as Jackie reported. "Even though Airbus is based in Europe, it needs U.S. approval because its planes contain sophisticated technological equipment made in America. That includes the computers and navigational equipment."

Both companies received the green light to sell a mix of wide-body and single aisle jets, Jackie said.

She has reported that this deal is seen as an important test case for doing business with Iran, including big questions on financing:

"Commercial aircraft are one of the very few products U.S. companies are allowed to sell to Iran. Even so, a deal has to be done without using American dollars or the U.S. financial system. This creates a problem even for international companies wanting to sell to Iran because most foreign banks have partnerships with American banks.

"[Former Treasury official Elizabeth] Rosenberg says that's why all eyes are on Boeing to see if it can find innovative ways to pick through this financial minefield."

The deals are also likely to "test conservative opposition" to the nuclear agreement in both the U.S. and Iran, as Reuters reported. In the U.S., many Republican lawmakers are against selling Iran planes, as are some conservatives in Iran.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.