A boy pushes a cart loaded with fuel containers in Tehran, Iran
A boy pushes a cart loaded with fuel containers in Tehran, Iran // Vahid Salemi/AP

Congress Targets Four Firms That Did Business with Iran

A U.S. Congress investigative arm has identified four companies that did business with Iran’s energy sector over roughly the past year, despite global sanctions.

Based on open-source information, the U.S. Government Accountability Office on Tuesday pinpointed two companies in China and another two in India dealing with Tehran’s energy industry during a 13-month period ending in November. Any or all of the parties could come under new global pressure to cease their joint projects.

Public documents suggest that the firm China National Petroleum holds a financial stake in developing an Iranian petroleum site, and that China Oilfield Services is pursuing a drilling project in the Persian Gulf nation, GAO analysts wrote.

Oil India and another Indian firm, Oil and Natural Gas, each told U.S. auditors they had divested from gas field development efforts noted in their annual reports. However, the investigators still labeled the firms as “active” collaborators with Iran during the recently concluded reporting period.

Tehran issued no major public response specifically to Tuesday’s GAO report , though it was uncertain whether the assessment would lead to new sanctions against the named companies. According to the GAO document, it is up to the State Department to cite any “sanctionable” actions by the four businesses found in public records to have financial ties to Iran.

(Read more Defense One coverage of Iran here)

Still, the auditing office dropped a possible hint at the impact of its scrutiny: Most companies identified in its past assessments ended their energy dealings with the Middle Eastern nation after being singled out.

The GAO investigators regularly report on Iran’s international business partners in response to Iran-sanctions legislation and requests from lawmakers. Such legal steps in Washington and other capitals seek to limit Iran’s income from oil and gas sales to other nations, with the ultimate aim of pressuring the Persian Gulf power to agree to curbs on its nuclear program.

Tehran defends the atomic effort as a strictly peaceful endeavor, and on Tuesday reaffirmed past threats to withdraw from the nuclear talks in response to any new sanctions. One sanctions proposal is gaining momentum in the U.S. Senate, though the White House has issued a veto threat, saying the legislation would stymie delicate negotiations for a desired long-term deal.

Recent sanctions-enforcement steps by Washington appeared to take on particular sensitivity in recent weeks, at one point prompting Iranian negotiators to walk out of discussions with six other governments on implementing a six-month nuclear deal reached in November.

Washington and its partners hope the interim accord will lead to a broader compromise heading off the Persian Gulf power’s progress toward a nuclear-arms capability, and end a years-long standoff that has threatened to escalate into war. The implementation talks were to resume on Thursday, with high-level participants from Iran, the European Union and the United States.

The initial, short-term agreement bars the United States from imposing any new “nuclear-related sanctions” on Iran. The Obama administration has made clear its intention to continue targeting violators of existing penalties.

At the same time, Iran has repeatedly warned that limited enforcement actions are undermining efforts to hammer out an enduring atomic bargain. Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, raised one such warning after the Commerce Department acted on Monday to block a transfer of two U.S.-made jet engines to Iran from Turkey.

These moves will certainly not be helpful and we have announced in our meetings with the American side that such attempts will sour the atmosphere [of the talks],” the Iranian official said in comments reported on Wednesday by the state-run Fars News Agency.