At least five companies with U.S. government contracts were in Tehran last week to attend the Iran Oil Show, a several day conference that enables international corporations to hobnob with top Iranian officials and plan for a full return to Tehran’s lucrative energy market, according to an analysis of the 600 companies that attended the oil expo.
At least 20 of the companies in attendance at the oil show maintain a U.S. presence or have contracts with the U.S. government, eliciting concern from watchdog groups that these companies could be helping Iran breach U.S. sanctions.
Lawmakers directed criticism at several companies that contract with the Pentagon after the Washington Free Beacon reported earlier this year that they were exploring business opportunities in Iran.
The overwhelming attendance at this year’s Iran Oil Show—a reported 300 percent increase over past years—serves as another sign that the Obama administration’s recent rollback in sanctions on Iran has been viewed as a green light to reenter the Iranian marketplace.
Five of the companies that reportedly attended the oil show currently have government contracts totaling billions of dollars, according to an analysis. These contracts are with the State Department, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Commerce, among others.
"It is a telling indication of the weakening of the international sanctions regime when firms with U.S. presence and U.S. government contracts openly publicize their attendance at an exhibition for Iran’s most heavily sanctioned sector," said Matan Shamir, research director for the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which has been closely tracking and publicly admonishing those companies seeking to do business with Iran.
Energy and electrical giant Siemens, which maintains a large U.S. presence, and the French energy company Total, which also has a large U.S. presence, were both reportedly in attendance.
Siemens has received more than $3 billion in government contracts with the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Pentagon, and DHS, among others.
Total has been awarded more than $2 billion in contracts with the Pentagon, DHS, and the Treasury Department.
Other government contractors that attended the Iran Oil Show include: the manufacturing firm Leoni, which has had around $82,000 in government contracts; the industrial firm Nexans, which has had more than $157,000 in contracts; and pump manufacturer Nikkiso, which has had more than $118,000 in contracts.
These companies, as well as hundreds more from around the globe, traveled to Iran’s oil expo to lay the groundwork for resuming large-scale operations in Iran, which has been promoting foreign investment—particularly with China and Russia—since the White House relaxed sanctions.
One Western businessman who attended the conference recently told the news outlet Agence France-Presse (AFP) that he hopes "Western officials will be more accommodating because of the general political climate in Iran."
Some Western companies have continued to maintain a small presence in Iran in the hopes that sanctions would be lifted and business could resume.
This year’s oil expo was reportedly highly attended by eager global businessmen.
Hatef Haeri, a consultant based in Iran, told AFP that the strong attendance signals a newfound willingness to engage with Iran.
"The energy market in Iran is huge," he was quoted as saying. "With a five-year plan for $150 billion of investment, some of this must come from abroad."
The watchdog group UANI has been personally calling on individual companies to disclose their activities in Iran and "certify they did not meet with representatives of any sanctioned entity or specially designated national in Iran," according to a press release from the group.
"The presence of European and Asian companies at the oil show directly contravenes the efforts of the international community to maintain economic pressure on the Iranian regime while also demonstrating disregard for President Obama's pledge to ‘come down … like a ton of bricks’ on foreign firms expanding their Iran business," UANI said in its release.