Senate Dems: 'Grave Concerns' Iran 'Exploiting' Talks to Violate Sanctions at Energy Conference

A group of Senate Democrats has asked Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to investigate sanctions violations as Iran prepares to present $40 billion in projects to foreign investors at an upcoming London conference.

The National Iranian Oil Company has already been designated as an affiliate of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

"We have grave concerns that Iran is exploiting ongoing diplomatic negotiations regarding its nuclear program to weaken the existing international sanctions regime," says the letter sent to Lew today by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

All senators would be likely "yes" votes on Iran sanctions when the Menendez-Kirk bill gets resurrected as expected in the new Congress.

"Recently, the National Iranian Oil Company’s (NIOC) deputy director for integrated planning, Moshtaghali Gohari, announced that 40 to 50 projects with a total value of $40 billion will be presented to foreign investors at a conference in London scheduled for February 23-25, 2015. We urge the Treasury Department to act quickly to investigate this matter and take enforcement actions if needed before the conference," the senators wrote.

"As you are aware, it is a violation of current U.S. sanctions policy to provide material support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or its affiliates. The Treasury Department designated NIOC as an affiliate of the IRGC in 2012. The IRGC and its affiliates have been sanctioned multiple times for their role in Iran’s nuclear program, support for terrorism, egregious human rights abuses, and support for the Assad regime in Syria."

They added that the conference, sponsored by London-based energy company CWC Group Ltd., "is being promoted and organized with the full support of NIOC, and it features a number of high-ranking NIOC officials as speakers."

"We believe it is possible that the CWC Group’s sponsorship of this conference could constitute material support, possibly placing it in violation of the sanctions policy, and we urge you to investigate any possible breach," the Dems wrote. "As we continue our diplomatic efforts, it is vitally important that existing U.S. sanctions continue to be strictly enforced."

The Iranians have said nuclear talks with the P5+1 are resuming Jan. 15, but the State Department hasn't confirmed that.

Last week, Iran criticized U.S. moves to crack down on entities helping Iran skirt existing sanctions as harmful to nuclear talks.

"At a time negotiations are underway with P5+1, such a move raises doubts about America's intentions and violates the good will principles," foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said, according to state news agency IRNA.

"This action is for mere publicity and will have no bearing whatsoever on our commercial policies," she added.