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Rouhani’s Plane Bypasses American Sanctions to get to New York

September 24, 2018
4 min read
President Hassan Rouhani arrives at JFK Airport in New York (Photo Islamic Republic News Agency)
President Hassan Rouhani arrives at JFK Airport in New York (Photo Islamic Republic News Agency)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in New York to attend the 73rd UN General Assembly on Sunday, September 23. He traveled on the same plane as he did in 2017, but this time with a different operator. The plane will be on American soil for four days and will receive fuel and technical services in order to fly the president back to Iran.

In May 2018, the US Department of Treasury put the plane’s previous operator, Dena Airways, on its terrorism sanctions list, based on a 2001 presidential order designed "to impede terrorist funding.” Because Dena Airways operated only that one aircraft and no other, the United States indirectly targeted the Iranian president by placing his official plane on its sanctions list. Dena Airways had been established to replace Meraj Air, the previous operator. 

Dena was put on the sanctions list ahead of President Rouhani flying to Switzerland and Austria for state visits,  so Iranian officials were forced to register the plane under a new entity to make the visits possible. In other words, Iran was forced to start bypassing American sanctions as it had done in the past.

The sanctions would have prevented Rouhani’s plane from receiving necessary services at airports during his visit to the two European countries. It was also possible that companies responsible for providing aviation fuel would have refused to refuel his plane to enable the president to fly from Switzerland to Austria and back to Tehran.

Refueled by the German Army

A similar situation arose for the Iranian foreign minister a year earlier. In 2017, during one of Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visits to Germany, the companies that had been responsible for refueling the plane refused to do so because they were afraid the United States would issue them fines. In the end, to avoid a diplomatic crisis, the German government arranged for army fuel tanks to refuel his plane.

Probably to avoid a repetition of what happened to the Iranian foreign minister, the government made sure Dena Airways was no longer operating the presidential plane before Rouhani flew to Switzerland. The operation was given to another company — although the company’s name was not revealed, and it was only referred to as “Iran Government” airline.

The Iranian president’s VIP plane is an Airbus A340-300 and is almost 20 years old. It was purchased specifically for diplomatic visits but, as of now, the United States has sanctioned two of its three operators. In summer 2014, the US Treasury Department accused Meraj Air of carrying weapons for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and added the company to its blacklist. The plane Foreign Minister Zarif used for his foreign visits remained under the name of Meraj Air. Dena Airways was established and assigned to operate the presidential plane for the president's travels to the UN General Assembly in New York, and to Italy and France.

No Logo

Dena Airways had operated only one plane and there was one reason for it to exist: to bypass the sanctions. The company was so new that it had not even had time to design a logo. Until it came under sanctions, there had been no accusations that it had carried arms or engaged in terrorist activities — and it is very unlikely that the official plane of the President of the Islamic Republic would have been used for such purposes anyway. So the only possible conclusion for the sanctions is that the United States wanted to humiliate Rouhani and, effectively, put him under sanctions without incurring the disapproval of other countries.

By changing the name of the operating company, for the moment at least, Rouhani’s has not encountered problems when trying to access airport services during his visits to Switzerland and Austria and his flight back home. Now he is in New York, but it would not be unthinkable for the US Treasury Department to add the new operating company to its blacklist as well. If this happens, then the Iranian president will be forced change the name of his VIP plane’s operating company for each and every flight or visit to another country.


Related Articles:

Will President Rouhani Attend a Key Security Council Session on Iran?, September 21, 2018

Rouhani’s Plane Bypasses US Sanctions, July 4, 2018

Iran and its Fleeting Dream of New Airplanes, June 13, 2018

President Rouhani's Plane on the US Sanctions List, June 1, 2018



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