As Iran and the P5+1 Group met in Vienna to discuss the landmark, historic, divisive, Munich-like, not-Munich-like nuclear deal forged in Geneva last month, the United States Treasury and State departments announced that about two dozen companies and some individuals would be designated by the United States for dealing illegally with Iran and aiding in Iran’s evasion of sanctions.
The action freezes the US assets of firms in Panama, Singapore, Ukraine and elsewhere for maintaining covert business with Iran’s national tanker company. Other companies involved directly in the proliferation of material useful for weapons of mass destruction also were blacklisted from the US market. American citizens are banned from any transactions with the listed individuals and firms.
Iran did not take too kindly to that. As the news reached Vienna, the Iranian delegation decided it wasn’t going to stick around and abruptly went back to Tehran. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Obama administration was stiill trying to head off a legislative surge from Congress to enact more sanctions against Iran, an act that Iran said would entirely unravel the nuclear deal.
The announced designations have rankled Iran, but may placate Congress. Either way, it was bold development. Jonathan Schanzer, formerly an analyst in the creation of such designations in the U.S. Treasury, offered this:
Just a reminder of how crazy today’s Treasury designations were. Announcement came as US officials were negotiating with Iran in Vienna.
— Jonathan Schanzer (@JSchanzer) December 13, 2013
As the Iranian delegation got huffy and went back to Tehran, its good friend Russia was there to give it some support. By support, we mean, it critiqued the U.S. designations.
“The U.S. administration’s decision goes against the spirit of this document,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said of the November 24 interim agreement under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions over the next six months.
Diplomats were quick to express their confidence that the parties would return to the table in good time. In the meantime, Vienna waits for you.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.