The Pentagon has signed nearly $900 million in contracts with European and Asian companies that also do business with Iran's energy sector, congressional investigators told a Senate committee Wednesday.
About 90 percent of the $879 million in contracts were for fuel and oil for U.S. forces overseas between 2005 and 2009, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The Pentagon told GAO investigators that the contracts were "critical to meeting mission requirements," the report states.
Four of the seven companies named in the report were oil companies - Spain's Repsol, Italy's ENI, France's Total and Thailand's PTT. The remaining three were South Korean construction companies that built offices or housing for U.S. troops stationed there.
The report was prepared for the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Connecticut independent Joseph Lieberman, and its ranking Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, as well as Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on homeland security. It comes as Congress considers whether to stiffen U.S. sanctions on Iran, which Washington has accused of trying to develop a nuclear bomb.
Under U.S. laws that impose sanctions on Iran, companies that invest more than $20 million in Tehran's energy industry in any given year may be banned from U.S. government contracts. But GAO staffers did not attempt to determine whether any of the companies named in the report met that standard, the report says.
While rich in crude oil, Iran's refining and natural gas industries have lagged behind other nations in the region. Proposed legislation would allow the U.S. government to impose new sanctions targeting those industries as well as others - but the report notes that the only time a company has been cited under the Iran Sanctions Act, those penalties were waived.
Iran already faces international sanctions over its refusal to halt the production of enriched uranium, which in extremely high concentrations can be used to produce a nuclear bomb. The Islamic republic says its nuclear research is aimed at building a civilian energy program and for medical use, but the International Atomic Energy Agency has said it cannot verify that its goals are "exclusively peaceful."