United States: (Not Quite) Open For Business: Recent Changes To Cuba And Iran Policy Tease New Opportunities For U.S. Businesses

Last Updated: April 21 2016
Article by Olga Torres

The United States government has maintained for some time a strict economic sanctions regime targeting Iran and a comprehensive embargo targeting Cuba. Both of these regimes were designed to deny those countries access to the U.S. financial system by generally prohibiting U.S. persons from engaging in nearly any transaction involving Iran or Cuba and their nationals. However, over the course of the last 18 months or so, the Obama Administration has announced sweeping changes in policy with respect to Cuba and Iran that would begin the process of evolving U.S. relations with those countries.

In the last three months, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") took two steps to implement these changes in policy. Specifically, OFAC, along with other U.S. government agencies, eased certain nuclear-related sanctions pursuant to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the "JCPOA") regarding Iran's nuclear program. And OFAC has issued two Federal Register notices, most recently on March 16, amending their Cuba regulations. These developments stop well short of ending the strict requirements of the various sanctions regimes, though they do signal movement toward the gradual easing of the Iran and Cuba sanctions programs.


In July 2015, the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the United States) and the European Union reached an agreement with Iran on the JCPOA to limit Iran's nuclear program to peaceful purposes. As part of this agreement, the United States agreed to ease its Iranian sanctions regime by lifting certain nuclear-related sanctions. This easing of sanctions was implemented by the U.S. government on January 16, 2016 (the JCPOA "Implementation Day") and included the following measures:

  • Easing of Secondary Sanctions. The United States relaxed certain nuclear-related "secondary sanctions." In general, secondary sanctions are targeted toward non-U.S. persons who engage in certain types of activities relating to Iran. With certain exceptions, the Implementation Day measures include the relaxation of secondary sanctions on non-U.S. persons who engage in certain activities relating to Iran's financial, banking, insurance, shipping, energy and petrochemical, gold and precious metals, graphite and other metals, and automotive sectors.
  • Removal of Certain Entities and Individuals from the Specially Designated Nationals List ("SDN List"). Consistent with the JCPOA, OFAC removed a number of entities and individuals from the SDN List, the list of persons with whom U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions.
  • Issuance of a New General License. OFAC also issued a new general license, General License H, authorizing non-U.S. entities owned or controlled by U.S. persons to engage in certain limited transactions involving Iran.
  • Adoption of a Statement of Licensing Policy. OFAC adopted a favorable licensing policy regarding the export, re-export, sale, lease, or transfer of commercial passenger aircraft (as well as certain parts and services) to Iran for certain limited end uses.
  • Easing of Import Restrictions. OFAC also stated its intent to amend the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations ("ITSR") to allow for the importation of certain Iranian-origin items, including carpets and foodstuffs, under a general license.

As noted, these steps by the U.S. government are significant in terms of overall U.S. policy toward Iran, but they have limited impact on most U.S. companies seeking to do business in Iran. While the EU made much more sweeping changes to its Iran sanctions as a result of the JCPOA, effectively lifting most sanctions and allowing European companies to do business in Iran, OFAC's Iranian sanctions regime -- specifically, OFAC's primary sanctions regime prohibiting U.S. persons from engaging in nearly all activities involving Iran -- remains in place.


On January 27, 2016, OFAC published in the Federal Register a number of amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (the "CACR") removing payment and financing restrictions on certain exports to Cuba and allowing code-sharing, leasing, and other arrangements involving U.S. and Cuban airlines to further facilitate travel to Cuba for authorized purposes. 81 Fed. Reg. 4,583 (Jan. 26, 2016). OFAC issued another round of amendments on March 16 further easing financial and other restrictions ahead of the President's planned visit to the island. 81 Fed. Reg. 13,989 (Mar. 16, 2016). These are the third and fourth sets of amendments to the CACR since the President's announcement in December 2014 of a new direction toward Cuba.

In particular, the January amendments cover the following:

  • Removal of Financing Restrictions. Previously, payment and financing terms for authorized exports to Cuba were limited to cash-in-advance or third-country financing. The amendments remove most of these financing restrictions for most types of exports, except for agricultural commodities.
  • Expansion of Authorized Exports and Re-Exports. The CACR amendments, along with similar amendments to the Export Administration Regulations ("EAR"), expand the scope of allowable exports to Cuba. Specifically, the amendments authorize certain additional travel-related transactions under a general license. In addition, the EAR amendments, which are implemented by the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security ("BIS"), establish a general policy of approval for certain export licenses intended to support civil society, news gathering, telecommunications, agriculture, and civil aviation safety. BIS will also adopt a case-by-case licensing policy for exports of items to meet the needs of the Cuban people. Licenses involving Cuban state-owned enterprises remain subject to a general policy of denial.
  • Air Carrier Services. The amendments authorize certain additional transactions to facilitate air travel between the United States and Cuba.
  • Travel. Before the amendments, the CACR included a number of categories of authorized travel, including, among other categories, travel for professional meetings, for public performances, and for cultural exchanges. While not adding any new categories of authorized travel, the amendments expand authorizations within certain of the categories. For example, the amendments now authorize U.S. persons to engage in transactions necessary to organize professional meetings in Cuba, whereas previously, the CACR only allowed U.S. persons to engage in transactions necessary to participate in such meetings.

The March amendments go even further in facilitating authorized travel to Cuba, expanding the range of financial transactions, and authorizing additional types of business and physical presence in Cuba. Specifically, under the prior regulations, U.S. persons were only permitted to engage in most authorized travel to Cuba as part of a group. The March amendments ease this restriction by allowing individuals to travel independently to Cuba for certain authorized people-to-people purposes.

Additionally, the March amendments authorize so-called "u-turn" transactions involving Cuba, Cuban nationals, and property in which Cuba has an interest. This amendment authorizes funds transfers from non-U.S. banks that pass through one or more U.S. financial institutions before being transferred to a bank outside the United States. Further, the March amendments include additional authorized purposes for which U.S. persons may establish a business or physical presence in Cuba. While the financial and business amendments are largely technical in nature, the travel amendments could make substantial progress toward allowing U.S. persons to visit Cuba.

As noted, these amendments come in advance of the President's planned visit to the island in late March. We would anticipate that additional amendments further easing restrictions relating to Cuba may be forthcoming.


Importantly, while these amendments mark significant changes to U.S. policy, the embargo with respect to Cuba and the sanctions regime with respect to Iran remain in place. If anything the CACR and the ITSR have become more complex as, rather than simply prohibiting all or nearly all transactions, the regulations now include a number of limited and highly technical exceptions that could allow U.S. persons to explore opportunities in or involving those countries. For these reasons, it remains critical to consult the regulations before engaging in any activity involving Cuba and Iran. We would be pleased to provide further guidance regarding Cuba and/or Iran upon request.

To view upcoming webinar details click here

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Olga Torres
Events from this Firm
22 Oct 2017, Conference, Texas, United States

What to Expect

  • Three Tracks –Import, Export, General
  • International Trade Compliance Hot Topics
  • Valuation Seminar 10/25/17 9:00am-3:00pm
23 Oct 2017, Seminar, Texas, United States

Olga Torres to speak on “Top 10 Export Errors to Avoid”

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.