Iran: Washington Tightens the Screws – 1979-1995

The scope of U.S. trade sanctions against Iran has steadily widened since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, culminating in the embargo declared in May. Criminal penalties for breaking the embargo can reach $500,000; penalties for individuals can reach $250,000 and 10 years in jail. The sanctions are administered by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in Washington, D.C. (phone: 202-622-2520)

1979: Executive Order No. 12170: President Jimmy Carter imposes comprehensive sanctions on Iran during the hostage crisis, but trade restrictions are relaxed in January 1981 with the signing of the Algiers accords to release the hostages and the creation of an Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at the Hague.

1984: U.S. State Department designates Iran a supporter of international terrorism: U.S. regulations prohibit certain foreign assistance and investment, including the use of U.S. credits, loan guarantees and other financial aid to help Iran acquire munitions. Current Commerce Department regulations limit the export of dual-use technology to countries on the terrorism list, which now includes Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria.

1987: Executive Order No. 12613: President Ronald Reagan bans direct imports of Iranian goods and services, including oil, when Iran fires on neutral shipping in the Persian Gulf.

1992: Iran-Iraq Non-Proliferation Act: The President may penalize any person or company who contributes “knowingly and materially” to efforts by Iran or Iraq to acquire “chemical, biological, nuclear, or destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons.” Penalties include a ban on contracts with the U.S. government and withdrawal of export privileges for two years.

March 1995: Executive Order No. 12957: U.S. companies are barred from developing petroleum resources in Iran.

May 1995: Executive Order No. 12959: Virtually all U.S. trade and investment with Iran is barred, including the purchase and resale of Iranian oil by U.S. companies and their subsidiaries. Re-export of U.S. goods to Iran through third nations is also prohibited.

Pending legislation: Proposals before Congress would give the President authority to penalize foreign exporters who sell oil and gas equipment to Iran.