COVID-19 and Biden’s Gambit: The Opportunity for Diplomacy with Iran

COVID-19 has proven much more than just a pandemic of biological proportions. The virus has shone a spotlight on the cracks both within and between countries globally. Nowhere is this situation more urgent than in the U.S.’ relationships with its embargoed nations, most notably Iran. Due to the current sanctions imposed on  Iran by the U.S., Iran finds itself at an impasse when it comes to receiving consistent humanitarian aid. This unfortunate dynamic also presents an opportunity for engagement through a potential vaccine diplomacy effort between the U.S. and Iran.

With 3,851, 162 confirmed cases according to the World Health Organization and 90,344 deaths as of July 30, 2021 coupled with the reality of sanctions, the situation in Iran is particularly dire. In the U.S.’ absence, China and Russia have stepped in to fill the vaccine void. The first foreign vaccine received by Iran was Russia’s Sputnik V, used to vaccinate frontline health workers. Sinopharm, produced by China, will be the second. 

According to Iran’s ambassador to Moscow, Kazem Jalali, Tehran signed a contract with Russia to purchase 60 million doses of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine. The Sputnik vaccine was approved for domestic usage in January, with plans to start domestic production in April. A local Iranian pharmaceutical company, Actoverco, produced a local version of the Russian vaccine in June. 

COVID-19 shows no signs of abating, especially in Iran, with the Delta variant sparking a resurgence in cases. This would be a good opportunity for the U.S. to consider pursuing a track of vaccine diplomacy with Iran. Not only would it save lives and contribute to lessening the spread of the virus globally, it would also be a stepping stone to better economic and political bilateral relations between Iran and the U.S.

A targeted approach to normalizing trade relations through selling vaccines to Iran could make the case for the U.S. to enter the Iranian market for numerous other products that directly relate to public safety. Take for example, aviation. Between 2011 and 2016, Iranian airlines were subject to sanctions under the U.S. Executive Orders 13382 and 13224. Order 13382 was meant to financially isolate proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and those who supported them. Order 13224 was intended to curb terrorist financing and spending after 9/11. The blacklisted airlines included Mahan Air, Caspian Air, Meraj Air, Pouya Air; these entities were all designated in 2014. 

Due to these orders, sales of spare parts to Iran were prohibited. After the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed Iran was allowed to buy finished commercial aircraft and Iran Air was taken off the US sanctions list. By March 2016, a general license was reissued for these sales. Unfortunately with the US exiting the JCPOA in 2018, primary and secondary sanctions were reinstated and Iran Air was once again blacklisted in November 2018. 

Despite these challenges, Iran’s civilian aircraft remain operational. Most of the fleet of Iranian airlines, however, are aged and have a high cost of maintenance. This is a unique opportunity for U.S. companies to step in once vaccines have paved the way for targeted trade normalization. This is Biden’s gambit, and his hand to play.

OFAC Updates: General License N Issued for Iran in response to COVID-19

On June 17, 2021, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC“) issued General License N (“GL N“) authorizing certain COVID-19 related transactions and activities through June 16, 2022, involving Iran. The recent authorization from OFAC is an effort to “further aid the global fight against COVID-19” according to its press release. GL N is part of OFAC’s efforts under National Security Memorandum-1. This new authorization may provide much-needed support to Iran, which is greatly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak in conjunction with the broad restrictions imposed on trade with Iran due to U.S. sanctions.

GL N authorizes certain transactions and activites related to the diagnosis, treatement, or prevention of COVID-19. These transactions and activites range from the exportation of pandemic technology (e.g, surgical gloves, facial shields, respirators, etc.) to importation of non-functioning medical technology for the purposes of maintenance. The three major categories of activites that OFAC outlines in GLN is (1) exportation of goods or technology; (2) importation of, or dealings in, certain COVID-19 related goods and; (3) exportation or importation of COVID-19 related services. To ensure these transactions and activites can occur, OFAC is authorizing certain transactions to occur with the involvement of the Central Bank of Iran (“CBI”), as well as the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). 

In addition to issuing GL N, OFAC issued six Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”), clarifying the scope and effect of GL N and other additional general licenses for similar purposes—FAQ 906, 907, 908, 909, 910, and 911.  In particular, FAQ 910 explains OFAC’s expectations for US financial institutions when processing funds transfers (or trade finance transactions) when handling the abovementioned transactions. For example, a US financial institution can rely on the originator to ensure compliance with GL N so long as that financial institution does not definitely know the funds transferred are not in compliance with the GL N. 

Additionally, according to FAQ 911, engaging in activites authorized by the GL N would not, generally, put a non-US person at risk of being designated as a Specially Designated National. However, understanding GLN and the potential risks that it carries can be complicated—even if the intent of the person using GL N is well intentioned. It is important to consult a U.S. sanctions attorney prior to engaging in any COVID-19 related trade with Iran.  

On the Frontlines of Humanitarian Crises Around the World: an Interview with Relief International

In June 1990, the worst natural disaster in Iranian history devastated northern Iran when an earthquake hit the region and caused widespread damage. In response to this earthquake, infamously named the Manjil–Rudbar earthquake, the Iranian Diaspora came to the aid of their native country through donations and fundraisers. Notably, a group of these responders were Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles who originally founded the humanitarian organization Relief International to aid the cause. Today, Relief International is one of the largest international humanitarian aid organizations in the world and helps communities in over 15 nations across three continents.


Leading the organization since 2014 is Nancy Wilson. Ms. Wilson received her B.A. in Political Science and Economics from Stanford University and her M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following 16 years in development and the private sector in Africa, Nancy served as a leader at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. Today, in addition to serving as the CEO of Relief International, Ms. Wilson continues her humanitarian work as the Treasurer of InterAction, the largest network of international non-governmental organizations. At Relief International, Ms. Wilson champions its mission of striving to turn fragile communities into resilient ones. By specifically targeting healthcare, education, economic opportunities, and water and sanitation, Relief International works within communities to foster hope and self-sufficiency. While the organization’s work began in Iran and has grown its reach to the entire world, their programs in Iran have grown of late. From providing aid at times of environmental fragility to ensuring Afghan refugee children are ready to succeed in school, Relief International has been uniquely essential in providing humanitarian aid to Iran’s most vulnerable, particularly those in rural areas.

One of Relief International’s most prominent programs in Iran is its involvement with Iran’s Afghan refugee population. Ms. Wilson recognizes this program as an ongoing venture to work with local officials and the community. “We started off in a very small way, just helping some of them get access to winter blankets and shoes and things they needed to survive the very cold winters because they are, in many cases, very poor families living in very meager housing. And then over time, as we built our relationships with local government officials and with the Afghan community itself, we’ve had some amazing programs that have worked on access to education and access to healthcare.” By working with a refugee population, Ms. Wilson highlights the need to make the community feel cared for and valued. Wilson explains that “we’ve been able to work with Afghan [refugees] to get properly registered in Iran by enrolling their children in school, which has protected them from deportation and to ensure they get access to healthcare.”

While Relief International’s work with Iran’s Afghan refugee community is transformative, their work with this population does not stop there. Ms. Wilson has helped the organization lead one of her favorite initiatives: The School Readiness Program. The program includes an eight-week summer program for children who have had no exposure to formal education. Ms. Wilson recognizes this program as completely changing opportunities for Afghan refugee communities in Iran: “If you take a kid who has never been to school, has never had any homeschooling of any sort, and drop them in a first-grade class, they will not succeed. They don’t know how to sit down, how to hold a pencil, how to get along and play with their classmates, and so on. The program works by teaching the children everything from navigating a classroom to brushing their hair to dressing themselves for school – ultimately setting them up to become a successful student when they venture into a classroom in the fall. The impacts are life-changing.”


Ms. Wilson describes, “It’s been so heartwarming to see some of these kids suddenly able to go to school, have friends, and be learning. The parents are happier, the kids are happier, and it’s just delightful.” Ms. Wilson especially recognizes the importance of working with both Iranian locals and Afghan laborers to create outreach workers and bridge builders in the community. Ms. Wilson explains that the duality is important so that “when the kids come to the class there will be someone from the Afghan community and then also someone who is Iranian and knows what the classrooms are like and has been trained on how to do this kind of remedial and non-formal education to help prepare kids for formal education.”

What truly makes Relief International’s work unique, beyond helping to solve many of the world’s most dire dilemmas, is their commitment to building partnerships and alliances with local governments and communities. Ms. Wilson expands on this: “97% of our staff globally are local nationals. So we hire Iranians in Iran, we hire Turks in Turkey, we hire Jordanians in Jordan, and so on.” By working with and at the pleasure of nations and their citizens, Relief International has the unique ability to empower communities to uplift themselves.

However, Relief International faces unique hardships due to the inflation of Iran’s national currency. Inflation has led to sweeping worries across the country and has made life harder for many Iranians. Ms. Wilson explains that Relief International is not especially exempt from these problems. While her organization has not been importing humanitarian supplies until recently, it is still a troublesome bump in the road towards accessing basic human needs. Ms. Wilson explains, “If you’re helping to rebuild schools and you need cement and the cost of cement has gone up because of inflation and because of sanctions, then it’s just going to cost more to build that school and it’ll take a longer period of time.”

While Relief International is heavily involved in Iran, they hold an international presence as well. Darfur, Sudan is home to one of Ms. Wilson’s other favorite programs. Wilson explains that Relief International found that child malnutrition was a uniquely dire and grave problem facing the community, which led to its now elaborate initiative in Darfur. The Darfur program reflects what Relief International and Ms. Wilson have dubbed the RI Way: community involved, locally driven and planned, and built step-by-step. There is a push to build local capacities and help create self-sufficiency within communities based on their own needs, and through this, an entire program is customized from the ground up.

Relief International’s work is always changing to help meet the world’s demands. With the rapid rise of COVID-19 in Iran, Relief International has quickly responded by providing massive amounts of supplies to Iranian hospitals. It is sourcing locally and internationally to get essential masks, gowns, and test kits. RI is also spreading information about COVID-19 to Iran’s rural communities. Ultimately, Relief International’s pursuit to foster peace, quell conflicts and fragility, and enable access to basic human needs is essential in fostering a peaceful world. While there are a multitude of dilemmas, tragedies, and fragilities across the world, the work that Nancy Wilson leads at Relief International highlights the hope for a brighter future for all communities, from Iran to Darfur and everywhere in between.

If you are interested in learning more about Relief International or donating to the organization to further their work, visit their website at

By Ariane Sharifi

COVID-19 Global Updates

Unsplash: Sahand Hoseini

On April 18th, Iran, began to formally open up “low-risk economic activities,” including major shopping centers such as the Grand Bazaar. Despite concerns that this will increase infection rates in the country, the decision was made to stimulate the economy. Iran already suffered a 20 percent youth unemployment rate prior to the outbreak and a reported 50 percent of Iranians surveyed have lost their income due to the virus. Earlier this month, Iran refused medical aid from the U.S., a nation suffering most from the pandemic, and rather demanded the removal of sanctions. The decision to slowly open up the economy is likely made in an effort to prevent further harm to the economy as it endures pressure from both sanctions and the pandemic.

Unsplash: Victor He

Likewise, the U.S., which has over 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, has plans to slowly re-open the economy. This month, President Trump announced his three-phase guideline for “Opening up America Again.” The decision comes after concerns that the lockdown will take a toll on the public and the economy. However, the future appears to indicate some positive early signs as New York, one of the hardest-hit cities in the U.S., continues to witness a descent in the curve as the infection rate drops from 1.4 to 0.9.

As some countries look to open up their economies and slowly adjust to the new normal, the impact of the pandemic on global relations remains unclear. China continues to reject allegations that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory, was accidentally released, or that it knowingly failed to take adequate measures to protect the international community. However, Germany, the UK, France, and the U.S. are pressuring China to claim responsibility for the pandemic, with Germany issuing China for a £130 billion invoice for the damages incurred by the virus. Vera Jourova, Vice President of the European Commission, also criticized the European Union’s dependency on other countries, specifically China, for medical supplies and called for re-assessing the supply chain and attempting to increase production within Europe.

Unsplash: Martin Sanchez

The COVID-19 outbreak has posed a challenge to countries as they struggle to contain the virus while also maintaining the economy. While global interconnectivity has its benefits, this pandemic has highlighted its dangers and the downsides of dependency on other nations.

By Nikki Vafai

Shabnam Rezaei: Educating Children Responsibly through Inclusive Entertainment

Source: Shabnam Rezaei

This month, the Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce spoke with Shabnam Rezaei, co-founder of Big Bad Boo Studios, a children’s production company, and Oznoz, a subscription video on demand (SVOD) platform which features over 200 cartoon shows in 10 different languages, including many quality shows in Persian for Iranian-American families. Inspired by her Iranian heritage and in an effort to foster inclusivity, Ms. Rezaei has created groundbreaking changes in children’s entertainment.

Born in Iran, Ms. Rezaei moved to Austria at a young age, where she attended an international school. Exposed to multiple languages and cultures early on in her life, Ms. Rezaei stated that her experiences and diverse background are directly reflected in the shows that she creates and the business products that she produces.

Ms. Rezaei initially worked on Wall Street. Following September 11th, she created the online magazine PersianMirror, highlighting various aspects of Persian culture, in an effort to change the emerging negative narrative that Iranians were “lumped into.” Through PersianMirror, she was approached by Dustin Ellis, an aspiring writer and director who worked with her to create their first cartoon project, Babak and Friends: A First Norooz, an animated film about a young Iranian-American re-connecting with his Persian culture.

Source: Shabnam Rezaei

In her role at Big Bad Boo Studios, her work has included series such as The Bravest Knight, 1001 Nights, 16 Hudson, Mixed Nuts, and Lili & Lola. Lili & Lola is a preschool series about an Iranian-American family with lots of fun adventures and holiday episodes such as Yalda and Norooz. The cast of the show includes comedian Maz Jobrani, who plays the voice of the father. Lili & Lola can be found on Oznoz, Youtube and Amazon Prime Video. The show also has 6 Persian-learning games for free in the Apple App store, which teach the Persian Alphabet, Numbers, Shapes, Vocabulary and many other fun preschool topics. In addition, Big Bad Boo and Oznoz have Youtube channels with full episodes and Big Bad Boo’s content can also be found on Amazon Prime Video. All of the shows are available in Persian on Oznoz, for those families who are raising their children with Persian and want quality content to help with their children’s language learning abilities.

Source: Shabnam Rezaei

Although Ms. Rezaei originally began with the goal of representing Iranian culture, her mission has “now expanded to representing every single person whose voice may not be heard.” Her productions are multicultural as they feature a diverse group of characters in storylines that children and families from underrepresented groups can relate. This is an integral part of Ms. Rezaei’s work as she believes that “there is nothing more important than a person feeling like they matter, seeing themselves in the media.”

Big Bad Boo Studios and Oznoz have gained the respect of everyday families who appreciate the validity and pride provided to their children through Ms. Rezaei’s work. Doing so, however, has by no means been easy. The challenge fuels Ms. Rezaei to continue to “innovate with difficult topics and push with telling stories that no one else wants to tell,” in an effort to show the common humanity we share with different cultures and families, while fostering inclusivity in children’s entertainment.

By Nikki Vafai

Did You Know? Spotlight on Iranian-American Student Organizations: Emory University

Iranian-American organizations at universities across the country flourish because of the young generation’s commitment and dedication to their heritage and communities. These communities are often started from the ground-up and require hard work and a strong love for Iranian culture. This can be seen no better than at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia through their Persian Cultural Association – the PCA. The PCA was inactive for several years before being re-chartered by students Anisa Hofert and Sana Matloub in late 2018. Sana, co-President of the PCA, is a senior majoring in Human Health and minoring in Persian Language and Literature.

Members of PCA with Emory’s Iranian Graduate Student Organization in 2019

As a member of the Iranian-American community, Sana felt it was necessary to have a cultural hub at her university. In the process of re-chartering the student organization, she spoke to Emory University’s student college council about the need for the cultural space. “Persians have a deep connection to their roots and when they are away from family it makes it hard to celebrate cultural events such as Nowruz. Persians just enjoy being around others and spreading [their] beautiful culture.” With tireless work from both Sana and Anisa to create the club, PCA was re-born. As the club is more involved and active than ever, the PCA holds monthly meetings where students meet and spend time together. Sana explains that members “watch Persian films, have chai, do homework, hold general body meetings, or [host] lectures (e.g. the Persian professor at Emory was willing to come in and lecture on calligraphy).” On a larger scale, the student group holds events to commemorate holidays like Nowruz. As the group has grown substantially over the past few years, their first Nowruz party was supposed to happen this Spring but was canceled due to pandemic.

Starting from scratch, the PCA highlights the Iranian-American community’s will and devotion to creating spaces for gatherings. While there are structural barriers, especially in smaller universities and smaller towns, this commitment to Persian culture is forever present. As Sana and Anisa highlighted, their university experience would not be the same without a Persian community. Though Sana is graduating in May, she feels hopeful about the PCA’s growth. Especially with the heartbreaking end that the pandemic has brought to many students’ spring semester, Sana still has hope for the group’s future. “I’m hopeful that PCA will grow next year and the years to come since we have raised so much money for large events [that should]attract more members to create a larger Persian community.” As evinced by the dedicated work of Iranian-American students at Emory University, this is only the start for PCA.

By Ariane Sharifi

OFAC Issues Fact Sheet Related to COVID-19 and Sanctions Programs

On April 16, 2020, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a Fact Sheet ​highlighting the most relevant exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations for humanitarian assistance and trade under the Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Ukraine/Russia-related​ sanctions programs. The Fact Sheet outlines specific guidance for OFAC-administered sanctions programs related to personal protective equipment (PPE) and other Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)-related humanitarian assistance and trade.​

In its Iran-specific section of the Fact Sheet, OFAC states:

“For COVID-19 related support, Treasury continues to stress that U.S. and non-U.S. persons may provide such humanitarian goods — including medicine and medical devices — to Iran under existing exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations in U.S. sanctions laws and regulations. For example, most medicine and medical devices, including certain personal protective equipment and other items used for COVID-19-related treatment such as medical gowns, medical eyeshields and goggles, surgical gloves, face shields, certain respirators and masks such as N95, N99, and N100 masks, and certain ventilators, already qualify for export and reexport to Iran under general licenses, without the need for further authorization from OFAC. There are certain limited categories of items that may also be helpful for COVID-19-related assistance (e.g., oxygen generators, full face mask respirators including Powered Air Purifying Respirators, certain diagnostic medical imaging equipment, and certain decontamination equipment), for which OFAC’s regulations set forth a specific licensing policy for review of license applications on a case-by-case basis due to concerns about potential end use of these specific items. OFAC is prioritizing and expediting review of these license requests.”

By Chamber Staff

First Shipments Made Under Europe’s INSTEX Mechanism

In a joint statement at the end of January 2019, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom (known as the “E3”) announced the creation of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), in an effort to preserve the JCPOA. INSTEX is a special purpose vehicle aimed at facilitating non-dollar trade between European companies and Iran. Five other countries, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, and Sweden, later joined the mechanism in November 2019.

The creation of INSTEX was essential for trade to remain possible between EU and Iran, particularly because SWIFT, the main international payment system, suspended access for Iranian banks at the end of October 2018 in response to U.S. pressure.

INSTEX is somewhat of a barter system that allows companies in the EU to avoid the U.S. financial system altogether in their business with Iran by eliminating payments through third parties. In this system, a European company buying from an Iranian company will be matched with another European company selling to an Iranian company. The European buyer will pay the European seller, thereby completely avoiding any cross-border payments. Of course, this is only possible if the Iranian seller on the other side of the first transaction can also be paid by the Iranian buyer on the other side of the second transaction. That is why Iran had to establish a domestic special purpose vehicle counterpart to INSTEX called the Special Trade and Finance Institute (STFI). The STFI mechanism was developed after technical and expert negotiations between representatives of Iran and the E3.

After months of preparation and negotiation, the E3 announced that the first INSTEX transaction was concluded on March 31, 2020 and that these goods are now in Iran. The statement did not exactly describe the goods or the parties involved in the transaction. However, the statement did announce that this first transaction covered medical equipment used to combat the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran.

Originally, INSTEX was conceived as a way to help match Iranian oil and gas exports, vital to the Iranian economy, against purchases of EU goods. However, those ambitions were toned down presumably as a result of strong pressure from Washington. It appears that for now, in the few participating European countries, INSTEX will work with smaller companies that are not engaged in business with the U.S. Even then, its operation initially is limited to exports of food and medicine, which are excluded from U.S. sanctions. Nevertheless, theoretically, it could grow to bring in other countries and its operation could be extended to trade in goods other than food and medicine.

By Amin Bahrami, Legal Fellow

The Civilian Aircraft Exemption

The Civilian Aircraft Exemption:
The Economic Benefits of Commercial Diplomacy

Mohsen Farshneshani
Legal Fellow, USIRCC

April 26, 2018

In the Summer of 2015, history was made when world powers – the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, China and Russia ? collectively signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) with Iran. The agreement aims to regulate Iran’s nuclear program under the monitoring regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”) in exchange for sanctions relief. Although U.S. primary sanctions continue to largely bar U.S. persons from doing business with Iran, the JCPOA includes three exceptions to that general rule. One of those exceptions is for the sale of commercial passenger airplanes. The JCPOA establishes a favorable licensing policy under which persons may request specific authorization from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) to engage in transactions for the sale of commercial passenger aircrafts and its related parts and services to Iran (of course, provided such transactions do not involve any persons on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals list or for whom a due diligence investigation is unsatisfactory.)

The commercial aircraft provision in the JCPOA opened the floodgates for companies like Boeing, Airbus, and the sea of associated suppliers and manufacturers in the aviation industry. These companies have billions of dollars in incentives to furnish the needs of Iran’s deprived passenger fleet. The February 18, 2018 crash of Aseman Airlines Flight 3704, which claimed the lives of all 65 people on board, attests to the urgency of this civilian crisis.

Iran Air’s $16.6 billion deal with Boeing included the sale of 50 twin-jet, narrow-body 737s and 30 long-range, wide-body 777 airplanes. The delivery of American aircraft was expected to begin this year as Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Asghar Fakhrieh Kashan specified in January that the first Boeing would be received in the last quarter of 2018. However recent reports tell that the three planes Boeing had tentatively scheduled for delivery in 2018 has been reshuffled with other orders due to the “U.S. government process.”

Boeing also secured another deal with Iran’s Aseman Airlines: $3 billion for 30 Boeing 737s. The agreement provides Aseman the purchase rights for 30 additional jets, a guarantee Aseman officials are keen to utilize so long as domestic U.S. politics “do not disrupt the contract.” Nevertheless, Boeing has yet to receive the OFAC license on which the deal is contingent, and had expected to receive the license by September 2018.

In December 2016, Iran Air signed another contract worth an estimated $27 billion to purchase 100 aircraft from Airbus, Boeing’s European rival. However, business dealings akin to those with Boeing and Airbus are currently on ice as uncertainty clouds the future of the JCPOA.

With the approaching May 12th deadline to renew sanctions waivers, President Trump continues to express his intention of either “fixing” the Deal or withdrawing from it. The Trump administration has initiated talks over a follow-on deal with European powers that would impose new restrictions on Iran. Conversely, the EU has said that it remains “fully committed” to the JCPOA, just as Iran is, given the nation’s enduring compliance.

Following a visit to Tehran by Sukhoi personnel, Aseman Airlines and an Iran Air subsidiary signed deals on April 25th to each buy 20 Sukhoi SuperJet-100s. Sukhoi’s February 12th delegation bore fruit as the Russian aircraft company capitalized on the complications of Iran’s various aircraft deals. An Iranian official announced that modifications made to the Sukhoi Superjet-100 would allow for sales to Iran without OFAC approval given that less than 10 percent of the aircraft’s components are American-made.

At the time the Iran Air deal was announced, Boeing said in a statement that the deal would support tens of thousands of U.S. jobs directly associated with production and delivery and nearly 100,000 American jobs in the U.S. aerospace value stream for the full course of deliveries. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, an aerospace sale the size of Boeing’s $3 billion deal with Aseman Airlines creates or sustains nearly an additional 18,000 U.S. jobs.

Failure of these deals, either by OFAC license denial or U.S. withdrawal, would have consequences for Boeing’s manufacturing jobs and Iran’s aviation safety.

This niche exemption to U.S. sanctions on Iran stands as a model to the potential benefits that the free flow of commerce can bring to both the American and Iranian people. This demonstration of trade diplomacy rewards the U.S. with jobs, while Iranians receive a much-needed upgrade to their aviation standards by improving transportation safety for the general public. Both parties to the long-estranged relationship benefit when diplomacy and trade prevail. In the absence of this specifically tailored trade opportunity, not only do commercial airlines and manufacturers lose, but so do every day Americans and Iranians.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the US – Iran Chamber of Commerce.

The Use of Confidentiality Advisers Under the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s “Optional Rules for Arbitration of Disputes Relating to Outer Space Activities”*

On December 6, 2011, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) issued its “Optional Rules for Arbitration of Disputes Relating to Outer Space Activities” (the Optional Rules).  In large part, the Optional Rules are modeled on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Arbitration Rules[i] developed in 2010, which provide comprehensive procedural rules that parties may agree to apply for the conduct of arbitral proceedings arising out of their commercial relationships and disputes.  However, the Optional Rules contain noteworthy distinctions from the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules with respect to the treatment of confidential information.[ii]  The Optional Rules address the confidentiality of information in greater detail than the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, and offer certain unique provisions designed to safeguard information produced by parties to a dispute in an arbitral proceeding.[iii]  This article examines the specific distinction between the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules and the Optional Rules with respect to the use of “confidentiality advisers” in arbitral proceedings under the Optional Rules.

Commercial space activity is an emerging, highly technical and proprietary industry, which is driven by rapid technological advancements.  According to a May 19, 2014, report by the Space Foundation,[iv] the global space industry grew to $314.17 billion (USD) in commercial revenue and government budget allocation in 2013, with commercial activity, primarily space products and services and commercial infrastructure, driving much of this growth.[v]

This industry may give rise to a wide range of disputes, including not only activities specifically relating to outer space, but also those relating to the construction of communications satellites, the launching and maintenance of satellites, and the investments underlying these and other space activities.  The Optional Rules were designed to be broad enough to encompass these sorts of disputes, “to reflect the particular characteristics of disputes having an outer space component involving the use of outer space by States, international organizations and private entities.”[vi]  The Optional Rules contain confidentiality provisions to address the unique concerns of an evolving, highly sensitive industry with inherent military and national security implications, demonstrating the flexibility of international arbitration to fashion procedural tools to a particular industry.

Specifically, Article 17(8) of the Optional Rules provides for the appointment of a “confidentiality adviser” as an expert in an arbitral proceeding.  The confidentiality adviser may report to the arbitral tribunal on specific issues involving confidential information, without disclosing the information either to the party from whom the confidential information does not originate or to the arbitral tribunal itself.  This provision is significant and unique, and reflects consideration for the highly proprietary and commercially sensitive nature of the technology being developed for space activities.  Commercial entities in particular may take note of this provision, given the significant expenditures in research and development that underlie space-related technologies, as well as commercial concerns relating to espionage and competitiveness in an emerging and rapidly changing field.  For these reasons, arbitration under the Optional Rules may be more attractive to parties than litigation in national court systems, even where domestic courts have a reputation for even-handed, reliable and efficient justice.

In theory, the provision for “confidentiality advisers” under the Optional Rules provides an attractive benefit to parties in that reflects consideration of a highly specialized, evolving and technical industry.  For example, Article 17(8) may foster greater willingness on the part of parties to produce confidential documents.  In practice, it remains to be seen whether this benefit also may trigger other concerns on behalf of parties in an arbitral proceeding, in light of the potentially disproportionate access to information on the part of confidentiality advisers vis-à-vis the arbitral panel in a particular dispute.

Finally, the use of confidentiality advisers under the Optional Rules may influence the overall development of arbitrator expertise relating to outer space activities.  Given the relatively nascent stage of the global space industry, and the shifting paradigm of space law as a function of rapid technological change, the development of arbitrator expertise in managing disputes relating to outer space activities will be important for the just and efficient resolution of disputes, as well as encouraging parties to make use of arbitration for disputes relating to outer space activities.

*Written by: Elika Eftekhari, Esq., Director of Trade Compliance at USIRCC. This article originally appeared in the April 2016 bulletin of the Centro Especializado de Arbitraje Peruano Arbitration.

[i] See UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules (as revised in 2010), G.A. Res. 61/33, art. 1, U.N. Doc. A/61/33 (Jan. 10, 2011), available at:

[ii] See Permanent Court of Arbitration, “Optional Rules for Arbitration of Disputes Relating to Outer Space Activities,” (Dec. 6, 2011), available at:, at Introduction (i) and (vi); Article 17.

[iii] Id. at Article 17.

[iv] The author of this article has no affiliation with the Space Foundation.

According to its website, the Space Foundation “was founded March 21, 1983, as an IRS 501(c)(3) organization ‘to foster, develop and promote, among the citizens of the United States of America and among other people of the world…a greater understanding and awareness…of the practical and theoretical utilization of space…for the benefit of civilization and the fostering of a peaceful and prosperous world.’…we represent the entire global space community: space agencies; commercial space businesses and associated subcontractors; military, national security and intelligence organizations; cyber security organizations; federal and state government agencies and organizations; research and development facilities; think tanks; educational institutions; space entrepreneurs and private space travel providers; businesses engaged in adapting, manufacturing or selling space technologies for commercial use; and museums, publishers and entertainment media that inspire and educate the general public about space.”  See Space Foundation History, available at:

[v] See Space Foundation, “Space Foundation’s 2014 Report Reveals Continued Growth in the Global Space Economy in 2013,” (May 19, 2014), available at:

[vi] See Optional Rules at Introduction (i).