Friday, October 03, 2008

OFAC Grants Permission to Iranian American Organization to Open Office in Tehran

In a significant departure from previous policy, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the Department of Treasury, has granted permission to the American Iranian Council (AIC) to open an office in Tehran. AIC says it does not receive funds from either the government of Iran or the U.S. AIC hopes to establish the office to promote better understanding and exchange between the U.S. and Iran. The Iranian government has not yet approved of the AIC office in Tehran.

A spokesman for the State Department told the BBC that the move did not signal any change in policy. However, it has been extremely difficult for American non-governmental organizations to obtain licenses to operate in Iran. Even following the Bam 6.6 earthquake in 2002, the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps was unable to renew its OFAC license after the first year of its relief efforts and was forced to pack up and leave despite much work to be done. One Iran expert tells me that the approval may be a feeler before the U.S. moves towards opening an Iranian interests section in Tehran.

Many non-governmental organizations, including the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, have been advocating for the last several years that the Bush administration should repeal Office of Foreign Assets Control restrictions that prohibit US non-governmental organizations from obtaining licenses to work inside Iran as a confidence building measure to demonstrate diplomatic sincerity. Hopefully, OFAC will grant licenses to additional non-governmental organizations in order increase civil society ties between the U.S. and Iran, and not just stop with one license to AIC. There are many organizations worthy of such a license.

No comments: