(CNSNews.com) – The State Department on Tuesday welcomed Boeing’s announcement of a deal to sell aircraft to Iran, but spokesman John Kirby seemed uncomfortable at the suggestion this marked the first time a U.S. aircraft manufacturer has been given a license to sell planes to a state-sponsor of terrorism.
Still, he confirmed that he did not believe it had been done before.
Kirby said the deal constitutes the type of business activity allowed under the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“I can tell you that the State Department welcomes Boeing’s announcement of this deal with Iran Air, which involves the type of permissible business activity envisioned in the JCPOA,” he said.
“We committed, as you know, to licensed sales of civil passenger aircraft and will continue to implement this and all of our JCPOA commitments,” Kirby said, adding that the deal provides an opportunity for U.S. and other aviation companies “to pursue legitimate commerce with Iran.”
Iran Air officials have said the deal could involve 100 planes, including 737s and 777s, and be worth as much as $25 billion.
Associated Press reporter Matt Lee asked Kirby if he knew of any previous instance in which the U.S. had allowed U.S. manufacturers to sell aircraft to a state-sponsor of terrorism.
“I don’t know the answer to your question, that it’s ever happened before quite the way you describe it,” he said.
“What do you mean, the way I described it?” interjected Lee.
“As licensing to a state sponsor of terrorism,” said Kirby.
“But that’s what happened, isn’t it?” said Lee. “I know it’s legal under the JCPOA, but they’re still a state sponsor of terrorism. And I’m just asking if you know of any other case where the U.S. government has permitted the sale of American planes, civilian aircraft to –”
“I’m not aware of any,” said Kirby.
He went on to say that under the JCPOA any license for aircraft sales to Iran was conditional on the planes not being resold or transferred to anyone on the U.S. specially designated national (SDN) list.
Reading from the nuclear agreement wording, Kirby continued, “Should the United States determine that licensed aircraft, goods, or services have been used for purposes other than exclusively civil aviation end use or have been resold or re-transferred to persons on the designated list, the United States would view this as grounds to cease preforming its commitments under the aviation section, in whole or in part.”
Lee pointed out that Iran has been accused of flying “not just ordinary passengers and not just ordinary cargo” to Damascus.
Iran is deeply involved in Syrian civil war, with troops and militias, including those from its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah – a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization – helping to prop up the Assad regime.
Iran is currently one of just three U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorism, together with Syria and Sudan. Cuba was on the list until last year, North Korea until 2008, Libya until 2006 and Iraq until 2003.