Continuing its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, the United States has (a) ratcheted up sanctions under Executive Orders that provide for the imposition of secondary sanctions on non-U.S. companies that engage in transactions with Iranian financial institutions, and (b) authorized the imposition of secondary sanctions on non-U.S. companies that engage in arms-related transactions with Iran pursuant to a new Executive Order, notwithstanding the expiration of the United Nations arms embargo under Security Council Resolution 2231 implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
On August 6, 2020, President Trump issued a pair of executive orders targeting China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. (Tencent) and its mobile application WeChat and ByteDance Ltd. (ByteDance) and its mobile application TikTok. The orders instructed the U.S. Commerce Department to prohibit the following within 45 days from their issuance (by September 20, 2020), to the extent permitted by law:
- Any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with ByteDance, or its subsidiaries, in which any such company has any interest; and
- Any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent, or any subsidiary of that entity.
Both executive orders direct the Secretary of Commerce to identify transactions that will be prohibited, leaving substantial discretion in implementation.
On August 6, 2018, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released a new Executive Order to implement the previously announced re-imposition of U.S. sanctions for Iran. There were no major surprises, with the Executive Order paralleling the guidance released on May 8, 2018 when the President announced his decision to cease the United States’ participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and to begin re-imposing the U.S. nuclear-related sanctions that had been lifted, following a wind-down period.