OFAC tired of reacting to every earthquake ever…adds two new GLs to Iran program

In a very good move, OFAC issued two general licenses that should both assist in clarifying and bolstering a passage of the CFR as well as substituting for the possibility of a plethora of other general licenses in the future for humanitarian crises in Iran.   General License E   Generally when a tectonic plate is named after your country, it’s bad news. It’s even worse when that isn’t the only fault line to run through you. In a year long period we saw three earthquakes and in this past decade we have had about 30,000 deaths from earthquakes in Iran. But even for earthquakes where fatalities may not be particularly high, property damage is excessive. This means destruction of infrastructure, clogging of critical supply routes (think of how barren an NYC grocery store would be if the GW Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel collapsed), loss of homes, possible inaccessibility to well water, the list of misery goes on. Without relief, it is quite possible more people will die from starvation, disease and the elements than were killed by the event itself. A good way to mitigate the misery is through humanitarian donations, which is  of itself a very broad category. For the actual donation of goods, 31 CFT 560.201 (b) covers that: (b) Humanitarian donations. The prohibitions of §§ 560.204 and 560.206 do not apply to donations by United States persons of articles, such as food, clothing, and medicine, intended to be used to relieve human suffering. What this passage does not cover however is the multitude of other non-profit activities that are required for the relief of human suffering. 210(b) only covers the donation of these articles but does not cover the exportation of financial services to provide funds for humanitarian operations. For instance, lets say a bridge is down on a critical supply route and a temporary bridge needs to be put up. The Iranian army is too busy conducting terrorism and human rights violations somewhere else and thus can’t get the appropriate bridging equipment on site, and thus to relieve human suffering an NGO has to contract out to have a temp strung up. This would generally warrant a specific license if it is for earthquake relief and typically instead of OFAC tackling tons of specific licenses, they will issue a general license covering that specific earthquake. The problem is, issuing a GL takes time and OFAC still has to deal with the initial wave of licenses. Instead, they have issued General License E which covers all future natural disasters. Not only does this relieve the burden on OFAC, but it also allows NGOs to swing into action quicker. Interestingly, GL E has also worked in some language that was very similar to one of the earlier Burma GLs that supports both democracy and peace building. In fact, the language in paragraph (a)(1) of GL E is almost the same word-for-word for the language in GL 14-C under the Burma program, while the language in paragraph (a)(4) is very similar as well.   General License F     As for the other general license issued, GL F now explicitly authorizes the exportation and importation of financial services to and from Iran for sports games. If anyone remembers, there was a bit of controversy regarding an Iranian soccer ref and this is the clear cut response from OFAC. Part of this stems from how one could interpret 31 CFR 560.554, particularly the portion that reads: …the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply of services directly related to the sponsorship by a U.S. person of a public conference or other...

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General License 18 pretty much made official, a look-back on the BSR

I didn’t post on this until now because it isn’t all that urgent. However, last night the White House issued an unnumbered E.O. repealing the ban on imports from Myanmar (Burma). This still excludes the items covered under the JADE act. In practicality, nothing has changed. OFAC issued general license 18 almost a year ago. The general license was a handy tool for negotiations as that should the situation in Yangon deteriorate, OFAC could quickly revoke the general license and return to enforcing the original regulations. Congress allowing the ban to expire signals trust in Myanmar’s progress. This event does offer us a time to reflect on Congress’ role with the Burma program. Allowing the ban to expire is a traditional tactic, so last nights actions shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone watching the hill. More thought provoking is the way that sanctions actually came about against Myanmar. The program initially saw its genesis in 1988 after the ruling junta cracked down on a series of protests…you know…in the typical way of warning shots above the legs. For those that believe in coincidence, you might note that the protests were called the 8888 Uprisings because they were staged on 8 August, 1988. So literally, we lifted the ban on imports 25 years after the catalyst that started the program (the administration may want to play this down however; I don’t think the symbolism would go over well with Human Rights Watch). Congress’ reaction to the resulting coup would be indicative of a trend for the entire course of the program. Instead of engaging OFAC from the beginning, they tagged a few amendments onto the Customs and Trade Act of 1990 and suspended arms imports in 1993. Congressional and executive action thereafter came in bits and pieces, including several E.O.s and finally the Jade Act. It was never willing to fully sanction the country in one large stroke, much like we did to Sudan and with the ITR (albeit we sure followed that with a wallop). My analysis is, that while sanctions were necessary and eventually successful, Myanmar became the punching bag for the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committees (known in D.C. as the HFAC and SFAC). Because neither of them were actually involved in any real funding programs (including aid packages to other countries), the committee was more a collection of sinecures and Myanmar legislation was a great way for the members to stand up and say they were doing something great for human rights. Of course, it helps that legislation like this is easy to push through the floor (sounds familiar for some of today’s sanctions maybe?) The Burma program has always been one of the more interesting programs for me. It was a very nuanced program that was often misunderstood, and I think much of that came from the haphazard way in which it was constructed on the hill. But for its part, OFAC executed it with exceptional professionalism and I have plenty of memories of walking people through the regulations. I was delighted to see political change and be a part of the lifting of the sanctions through general licenses and have huge hopes for the country in the future. There are many services that still need to be addressed and I think the next steps would be a favorable licensing policy (or another GL similar to GL 19) to allow interactions with certain entities to make those services...

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