4/13/15, "Deal or not, many U.S. states will keep sanctions grip on Iran," Reuters, by Yeganeh Torbati
"As the United States and
Iran come closer to a historic nuclear deal, many U.S. states
are likely to stick with their own sanctions on Iran that could
complicate any warming of relations between the long-time foes.
In a little known aspect of Iran's international isolation,
around two dozen states have enacted measures punishing
companies operating in certain sectors of its economy, directing
public pension funds with billions of dollars in assets to
divest from the firms and sometimes barring them from public
In more than half those states, the restrictions expire only
if Iran is no longer designated to be supporting terrorism or if
all U.S. federal sanctions against Iran are lifted - unlikely
outcomes even in the case of a final nuclear accord. Two states,
Kansas and Mississippi, are even considering new sanctions
targeting the country.
The prospect of unwavering sanctions at the state level, or
new ones, just as the federal government reaches a landmark
agreement with Iran risks widening a divide between states and
the federal government on a crucial foreign policy issue.
Though U.S. states have often coordinated their measures
with federal sanctions on Iran, their divestment actions
sometimes take a tougher line on foreign firms with Iran links
than is the case under federal policy.
"Our investment sanctions are not tied in any way to
President Obama's negotiatons with the Iranians," said Don
Gaetz, a Republican Florida state senator who sponsored
legislation in 2007 punishing companies with investments in
Iran's energy sector.
"They would have to change their behavior dramatically and
we would not be necessarily guided by President Obama or any
other president's opinion about the Iranians," Gaetz said.
(Map of U.S. states with sanctions against Iran: here)
A final accord, which is still being negotiated ahead of a
June 30 deadline, would likely lift U.S. sanctions on Iran's
crude oil sales to other countries and loosen restrictions on
Iran's financial system. Federal sanctions on Iran tied to
issues such as human rights and terrorism would remain in place.
Among around a dozen states contacted directly by Reuters,
legislators in Georgia, Florida, and Michigan said they had no
intention of changing their Iran policies even in light of a
federal deal. State officials in Connecticut and Illinois said
new local legislation would be needed to change their divestment
policies, even if a deal were signed.
Officials in New York and Oregon told Reuters they would
look to changes in law at the federal level in the case of a
nuclear deal to determine how it would affect their policies.
Officials at Iran's mission to the United Nations did not
immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters on the
state policies. White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan did
not respond directly to a Reuters query about states' sanctions
policies, but stressed that only sanctions related to Iran's
nuclear program would be affected by a deal.
The first divestment campaigns gathered steam in 2008 and
2009, and received a federal stamp of approval in 2010 with
passage of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and
Divestment Act, which encouraged states to pass such measures.
The divestment measures typically enjoy broad bipartisan
support within the legislatures, and have been signed into law
by Republican and Democratic governors alike. Critics of the laws say they are an unnecessary interference
in a crucial area of U.S. policy by states that usually have
little expertise in foreign affairs.
"Foreign policy is uniquely a case where the government
needs to act with one voice," said William Reinsch, president of
the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents major U.S.
companies and advocates against unilateral sanctions.
Foreign companies are the main target of the rules since
U.S. firms are largely barred from working in Iran by federal
Florida's law led to the State Board of Administration
(SBA), which oversees Florida public investments, pulling more
than $1.3 billion out of companies such as PetroChina and
Russia's Gazprom for their involvement in either Sudan or Iran.
As of 2014, the SBA had $177 billion in assets.
Like Florida, Michigan was an early adopter of divestment
policies targeting Iran. It has divested $185 million of its
pension funds from companies including Royal Dutch Shell
, Vodafone, HSBC, and Nokia for their
activities in Iran.
In 2013 and 2014 Michigan divested $45 million from Becton
Dickinson and Co., a U.S. medical supplies company that
sells to Iran legally under federal regulations.
A Becton Dickinson spokesman said the firm was unaware it
was a target of divestment by Michigan until contacted by
Reuters. It said in a statement that its trade with Iran is
authorized by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign
Assets Control, which oversees federal sanctions.
Marty Knollenberg, a Michigan state senator who sponsored a
divestment bill in 2008, said the legislation was based in part
on model legislation provided by the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a lobbying group that advocates for
further sanctions on Iran.
"Many other states followed suit, and I think with that
pressure the federal government finally acted," said
Knollenberg, a Republican. "We're all affected by this, not just
the federal government."
Richard Nephew, the former principal deputy coordinator for
sanctions policy at the U.S. State Department, said the main
losers in divestment actions are the companies and local
governments, rather than Iran or other target countries.
"The degree to which such decisions can be made at lower
government levels than the federal government generally makes
the United States a more complicated, unattractive place to do
business," said Nephew, now with the Columbia University Center
on Global Energy Policy in New York.
"This is a feel-good measure that, in the end, probably
doesn't feel all that great given the costs it imposes at home."
(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Bruce Wallace and
Image caption: State by state sanctions on Iran, Reuters map