Officials from the U.S. airplane manufacturer Boeing, a top U.S. government contractor, are staying silent about the details of a Tuesday announcement by Iranian officials that the Islamic Republic and the aviation firm had reached a "milestone" business deal, according to statements provided to the Washington Free Beacon.
Abbas Akhoundi, Iran’s minister for roads and urban development, announced Tuesday that officials had formally inked a deal with "Boeing over the purchase of new planes that could set a new milestone in the country’s efforts to revamp its aging air fleet," according to comments in Iran’s state-controlled media.
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The news sparked immediate backlash from congressional opponents of the sale, with one leading opponent disclosing to the Free Beacon that lawmakers are poised to take action to stop the deal from going through.
Details of the deal are "finalized" and will be "announced within next few days," according to the Iranian minister, who additionally said the country got a bargain deal for the planes.
The announcement comes as congressional opponents of increased business ties with Iran petition Boeing and other companies to avoid doing deals with the Islamic Republic following last summer’s comprehensive nuclear agreement, which removed sanctions on Tehran and paved the way for these companies to re-engage economically with Iran.
Opponents of doing business with Iran say the country will spend its profits to increase its illicit military activities and fund rogue terror operations across the Middle East. The Islamic Republic has further been designated as a primary source for terrorism financing and illicit economic activity, which could potentially entangle international corporations who decide to deal with Iran.
Boeing officials have been mum on Iran’s announcement, telling the Free Beacon Tuesday afternoon that it is working with Iran and the Obama administration to finalize a purchase.
"We have been engaged in discussions with Iranian airlines approved by the USG about potential purchases of Boeing commercial passenger airplanes and services," a Boeing spokesman said. "We do not discuss details of ongoing conversations we are having with customers, and our standard practice is to let customers announce any agreements that are reached. Any agreements reached will be contingent on U.S. government approval."
When pressed to discuss the matter on Tuesday, a State Department spokesman would not comment on the sale, but told reporters that the Obama administration encourages business with Iran following the nuclear accord.
"Without commenting on specific announcements by private companies, I would remind you that under the [nuclear deal] we issued a statement of licensing policy that allowed for a case-by-case licensing of individuals and entities seeking to export, re-export, sell, lease, or transfer to Iran commercial passenger aircraft and associated parts and services exclusively for commercial passenger aviation," State Department Spokesman John Kirby said. "Though I can't speak to the specific report regarding Boeing, I can say that we have seen a number of major companies make tangible plans to take advantage of the new commercial opportunities."
Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), who has criticized Boeing and others for pursuing business with Iran, told the Free Beacon that Congress could take action to stop the sale.
"We’ve heard reports of a pending deal between an iconic American company and terrorism’s central bank," Roskam said. "To say we have national security concerns would be an understatement. Boeing and the Islamic Republic should know the U.S. Congress will not look favorably upon any deal that jeopardizes the safety and security of the American people."
Several GOP lawmakers recently summoned the heads of Boeing and French air manufacturer Airbus for a meeting about their dealings with Iran.
Three House members from Washington state, a major base for Boeing operations, wrote to the company in May to request a meeting.
"We write to express our serious concerns over the sale of airplanes, parts, and other aircraft-related services to the Islamic Republic of Iran," wrote Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the GOP conference chair, Dave Reichert, chair of the House committee that regulates trade, and Dan Newhouse.
"With Airbus already conducting business in Iran and Boeing working with the administration to begin its own sales, an extremely dangerous precedent is being set for Western companies," the lawmakers wrote, according to a copy of the correspondence obtained at the time by the Free Beacon. "We ask both of your companies to consider the profound moral implications of engaging a nation that has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted."