In 2006, Stuart Levey, then undersecretary of the Treasury and the point man on Iran sanction enforcement in the Bush administration — a job he also held for two years under Obama — told Turkish officials that Irancell was “fully owned” by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to a State Department cable made public by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
The corps led a crackdown on protesters after the June 2009 presidential election in Iran and has long been accused of playing a central role in the country’s nuclear program. Some of its officers and business interests have been targeted by U.S. and U.N. sanctions intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program dating back to 2006.
Since Plouffe’s speeches, the U.S. government has become increasingly concerned that the Iranian government has used MTN operations or technology to help monitor dissidents. Company representatives and South Africa’s ambassador to the United States have met with senior executive branch officials in efforts to stress the firm’s compliance with U.S. sanctions, according to U.S. officials familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no decisions have been reached.
Norman, the MTN spokesman, said that the company “has been invited to a series of meetings with U.S. government officials in South Africa and Washington over the last six months” in which presidential executive orders on trade with Iran were discussed. He added that there have been several meetings with multiple agencies to “ensure that MTN’s operations in Iran remain fully compliant with U.S. sanctions.”
MTN Group’s chief executive, Sifiso Dabengwa, said in a past statement that suggestions that the company has been involved in human rights violations in Iran are “false and offensive.”
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a leading critic of technology firms operating in Iran, told The Post in a statement late last week that MTN should be “blacklisted” because of evidence that it “provided technology to Iran used to repress the Iranian people.”
On Wednesday, Congress passed new sanctions on Iran with provisions that could apply to technology companies such as MTN. The bill awaits the president’s signature.
Senior U.S. officials have expressed concern that cellular technology is being used in Iran and Syria to track dissidents. Obama signed an executive order in April allowing U.S. officials for the first time to impose sanctions on foreign nationals found to have used new technologies, including cellphone tracking, to commit human rights abuses.
White House’s inner circle
With a broad portfolio mixing politics and policy, Plouffe is a key member of Obama’s inner circle, a confidant whose desk is just steps from the Oval Office. There is no evidence that he has been involved in policy discussions about Iran sanctions, though he has spoken publicly about the need to restrain Iran’s nuclear program.