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Legality of Certain Nonmilitary Actions Against Iran


Under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), the President may impose an embargo on all imports from Iran and, subject to certain conditions, a prohibition on exports of food and medicine to Iran.  The IEEPA also authorizes him to order the closure of Iranian business offices located in the United States.

While the President may have some statutory and constitutional power to control third party transactions with Iran, particularly those designed to circumvent the impact of sanctions imposed by the United States directly on Iran, his authority to impose a general secondary boycott against those trading with Iran may be limited.  It is thus not clear whether, under existing laws and treaties, airlines and shipping companies that serve Iran may be denied landing rights and fuel purchases in the United States.

Presidential action to block international satellite communications from Iran to the United States is clearly authorized only insofar as it is part of a more general ban on transactions with Iran and its nationals.

The President’s authority to impose a ban on travel by American citizens to Iran may have a more limited applicability to journalists.  See United Slates v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968).  Moreover, restrictions on travel to Iran would have no immediate effect on persons already in that country.  However, the IEEPA could be used to impose a broad ban on financial transactions between Americans overseas and Iran or its nationals.  The IEEPA would authorize a broad prohibition against all transactions between Americans relating to Iran, as long as Iran has even an indirect interest in the transaction; however, it is not possible under the IEEPA to reach “purely domestic” transactions.

Updated July 9, 2014