|Pepsico and Kraft Food were among the companies which were granted special licenses to do business with Iran [AP]
The US Treasury Department has approved nearly 10,000 exceptions for American companies to do business with Iran over the past decade, despite trade embargoes, The New York Times reported.
The Treasury granted special licenses to the companies so they could sell some types of products in Iran and other countries the US considers terrorist sponsors, the newspaper wrote on Thursday.
Companies such as Kraft Food, Pepsi and some of the largest US banks benefited from the special Treasury permits.
Most licenses were granted under a law allowing trade in humanitarian goods, even if that means selling products as diverse as cigarettes and chewing gum.
No law violated
The story posted on the Times' website implies no illegal activity by administration officials or company personnel.
Rather, it suggests that the various deals for goods ranging from Louisiana hot sauce to body-building supplements undermine America's moral and diplomatic authority as the leading purveyor of tough sanctions on Iran, North Korea and other nations.
The newspaper said one American company was allowed to bid on a pipeline job to help Iran sell natural gas to Europe even though the US opposes such deals.
Other American companies were permitted to deal with Iranian firms suspected of involvement in terrorism or weapons proliferation, the Times said.
"Allowing the export to Iran of food items like hot sauce or salad dressing from the US is required by statute and, in any event, is trivial in the context of our Iran policy," Stuart Levey, the Obama administration's sanctions chief, said.
"Our efforts are focused on matters like the illicit conduct of the Iranian government and financial institutions that are facilitating it."
Treasury officials noted that the permitted trade was inconsequential compared with the broad scope of US sanctions, as goods sold to Iran amounted to only 0.02 per cent of all US exports in the first quarter of this year.
And they were a fraction of a percent of all Iranian imports, officials said. Congress passed the law easing sanctions for some goods in 2000, largely with Cuba in mind.
Sanctions 'not against civilians'
Levey said those rare cases don't conflict with the larger American effort to apply international pressure on Iran, which is already facing four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over its disputed uranium enrichment programme.
Instead, they are part of an attempt to ensure that sanctions don't affect the availability of food, medicine and medical devices to Iranian people as the U.S. pressures Tehran on the nuclear issue, alleged links to terrorism and missile programmes.
Kraft Food and PepsiCo didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Part of the problem is that many countries facing US or international sanctions, the government is a large player in the economy.
The Times noted that the documents it obtained through a public records request showed the US approved sale of luxury items to stores owned by blacklisted banks.
In response, administration officials said decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and reflect the realities of import chains, which can link some companies unwittingly to others.
"I haven't seen any licenses that I thought we should have done differently," Adam Szubin, the director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which grants the licenses, told the Times.
But he conceded that US officials weren't fully investigating every importer.