Treasury defends 10,000 exceptions to Iran, other sanctions

The Treasury Department is defending its nearly 10,000 exceptions granted to companies to skirt around sanctions on Iran and other countries blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the waivers were granted for companies such as Kraft and Pepsi, mostly under a law exempting agricultural and medical humanitarian aid from sanctions. But the American business allowed through has included cigarettes, chewing gum and hot sauce.

Other applications were approved on the basis that they served American foreign policy goals. In one instance, a company was allowed to help on a natural-gas pipeline job that enabled Iranian sales to Europe.

A Treasury official speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters defended the exemptions.

"These are not discretionary exceptions to U.S. sanctions made by Treasury," the official said. "Because the U.S. has the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions against Iran, allowing for the exportation of food, medicine and medical devices is consistent with our objective of not hurting the Iranian people."

The exemptions also allowed the exportation of sporting goods equipment to train Iranian Olympic athletes.

"The legal export of popcorn, chewing gum, cake sprinkles and hot sauce is not propping up the Iranian government," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Twitter.

The incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), has vowed oversight hearings to dig into how the administration is enforcing sanctions passed by Congress.

“The bills that we pass become interesting historical documents but not really bills that have been implemented,” Ros-Lehtinen recently told The Hill. “And so we want to put an end to that. Can we do it? We can't force the administration to do it.

“But we hope to have oversight hearings that will ask the administration, ‘Why aren't you sanctioning more banks and companies and countries? What are we doing and what are you waiting for?’ ”

This post was updated at 3:40 p.m.