(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration did not pursue a nuclear deal with Iran in order to help Boeing conclude a multi-billion deal to sell aircraft to its national carrier, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.
He made the comment after being asked why the U.S. was allowing Boeing to sell planes to Iran Air without a pledge that it would no longer engage in the type of terror-supporting activities that prompted U.S. sanctions five years ago.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal includes a U.S. commitment to “allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran.”
That commitment and the removal of Iran Air from the U.S. specially designated national list laid the groundwork for an agreement which Iranian officials say could involve more than 100 Boeing aircraft, and be worth up to $25 billion. The State Department has welcomed the deal.
During Thursday’s department hearing, Kirby was asked – for the second consecutive day – what Iran Air had done in order to be delisted, given its 2011 designation for terror-supporting activity.
“Was there a pledge from the Iranians that Iran Air would no longer be used for these kinds of activities?” a reporter asked. “And if there wasn’t, how is it that you’re allowing a U.S. company to sell them planes?”
Kirby said he was “not at liberty” to talk about the discussions leading to the airline being delisted, but added that “we wouldn’t have done that if we didn’t believe we had reason enough to do it, number one.”
“Number two, this isn’t about and never was about helping Boeing conclude this deal when there’s no way we could have predicted Boeing’s decisions back when we signed and approved the JCPOA,” he added.
On Wednesday, the Daily Beast reported that one of the State Department’s most respected retired career diplomats, Thomas Pickering, publicly promoted the Iran nuclear talks and the JCPOA while serving as a paid consultant for Boeing.
The Daily Beast said Pickering (who retired as Boeing’s senior vice president international relations in 2006) had failed to disclose his ongoing relationship with the corporation on at least some occasions when discussing the nuclear issue before Congress and with media.
Pickering has long been associated with initiatives promoting U.S.-Iran ties and supportive of the nuclear deal, including The Iran Project, the American Iranian Council (honorary board member), and the National Iranian American Council (advisory board member).
Next Monday he is scheduled to speak on the JCPOA before the Chicago Council of Global Affairs.
Sanctions relief under nuclear deal ‘quite restrictive’
Pickering served as undersecretary of state for political affairs from 1997 to 2000, and was also ambassador to the United Nations, Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria and Jordan. He retired from the State Department in 2001.
In 2012, he was picked by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to chair Accountability Review Board (ARB) probe into the Benghazi terrorist attack.
In response to the Daily Beast article, Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake wrote Thursday, “Close watchers of the Iran debate understood that the lifting of sanctions on Iran would potentially allow major U.S. companies like Boeing back into the Iran market.”
“But this is not how the White House and its allies sold the Iran deal last summer. One of their sharpest arguments was that the Iran agreement was a way to avoid a war that opponents of the agreement wanted.”
That was a talking point used by Pickering too.
In a lecture at the University of Washington in February 2014, he said, “If the alternatives are either Iran having a nuclear weapon or us going to war, then I think it’s far better for us to see if the negotiating route can lead to the answers.”
Speaking to interviewer Marcia Franklin on Idaho Public Television early this year, Pickering said the alternatives to striking a deal were “horrendous,” including military force, the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon, and even more disruption in the region than is already the case.
Echoing another administration talking point, he also told Franklin that sanctions to be lifted under the JCPOA would not allow U.S. companies to deal directly with Iran.
“If I were to tell you that none of the sanctions that we take off will permit American firms directly to deal with Iran I would be telling you the truth,” he said. “That will not happen. The Iranians will not be able to deal in their business terms in U.S. dollars.”
Pickering described the sanctions relief as “quite restrictive.”
Apart from public remarks and congressional testimony on Iran – which included a June 2014 appearance before the House Armed Services Committee – Pickering lent his weight and reputation to initiatives lobbying in favor of the nuclear talks and JCPOA.
In April 2013 – two months before the election of “moderate” President Hasan Rouhani – Pickering joined several dozen other former senior government officials urging the administration to make a new push to engage Iran.
They suggested the administration acknowledge supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s supposed “fatwa” against nuclear weapons, and take steps to demonstrate its “willingness to work with the existing government.”
Weeks after Rouhani’s election, Pickering and two others called in an article for a “new approach to Iran,” arguing that “piling on” any new sanctions or ultimatums would “undermine or even preclude the possibility of negotiating a nuclear deal.”
The following January, Pickering joined eight other prominent figures urging senior lawmakers not to push ahead with a vote on a bipartisan deferred-sanctions bill that threatened toughened measures against Tehran in the event a nuclear deal fails.
“Based on our experience born of years of dealings with Iran, we do not believe the Iranians will continue to negotiate under new or increased threats,” they wrote.