In a series of air crash catastrophe that have occurred in Iran during the past years, the main blame has been put on the unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States' government on the sale of civilian aircrafts and spare parts to Iran.

On the night of January 9th, 2011 Iran Air flying an aging Boeing 727that was in service since 1974 crashed near the city of Oromieh in the north western part of Iran. From 105 passengers' onboard 77 people lost their lives and 28 were severely injured.

Some foreign officials including Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the foreign ministers of Germany were quick to express their sympathy with the victims.  Although some put the blame on technical issues, but the role of sanctions imposed by the US government and its pressure on its allies and other countries to stay away from selling new aircrafts and related spare parts to Iran cannot be ignored.

It was clear since many years back that Iran Air had an urgent need to renew its fleet since bulk of its fleet especially the Boeing aircrafts are more than 30 years old. The U.S. sanctions bar the sale of Boeing passenger planes to Iran and hinder the acquisition of other aircrafts, many of which rely on U.S.-built engines or other components.  During the past decades many attempts were made to purchase new aircrafts by Iran but each time with Washington's interference the process was aborted.

In the late 1990's during the Khatami Presidency and while the relations with the West was in upswing an agreement was signed between Iran and France for purchase of four Airbus A-330 passenger jets at a price of $480 million. The deliveries of the aircrafts were planned to begin in 2001. But since Airbus planes at that time included close to 30% of US manufactured components including avionics and engine, it was agreed that the Airbus planes to be manufactured for Iran were to install British-built Rolls Royce engines and European avionics instead of American parts. Defending the deal with Iran for the sale of Airbus planes Hubert Védrine, French Foreign Minister, declared in the French National Assembly in 1999 that "I don't see how democracy will progress more quickly in countries that buy Boeing rather than Airbus jets."

As it became evident later, the British company refused to furnish the engines for the aircrafts due to the US pressure and because of that, France annulled the contract despite a large sum it had received from Iran as advance payment.  The whole irony is that this happened during Khatami presidency that was considered to have moderate and friendly stance toward the West and while no nuclear file existed at that time. The political hassle over the sale of Airbus planes to Iran somehow revealed a fierce competition between the Boeing and Airbus for controlling the international aviation markets.

 Faced with persistent American sanctions, Iran turned to Russia and Ukraine for cheaper planes. It also relied on the Russian- build planes for some short- haul flights including 16 domestic destinations.  However, following many crashes of Tupolev type Russian manufactured planes including the one on February 12, 2002 that killed 119 people on board, Iran Air decided to ground all its Russian- built planes. Apparently, in an attempt to fill in the place of Russian planes, some aging Boeings like the one that fell last week were once again brought back to service.

In sum, the policy of sanctioning civilian aircraft sale and the spare parts have led to fatal accidents in the past and it is necessary to be altered. The reasons for that are clear.  First these sanctions endanger civilian lives and are contrary to recognized norms of human rights and sanctity of human lives as are often advocated in the West. Second, embargo on the sale of civilian aircrafts to Iran undermines the norms and spirit, if not the words, of international civil aviation safety system enshrined in the Chicago and Montreal conventions. Since as the recent case of air crash near Oromieh displayed, the lives of other nationals besides Iranians are at stake. Third, this policy runs counter to the so-called "smart sanctions" that supposedly should not damage ordinary Iranian citizens. In fact, these sanctions are afflicting its damages directly to the civilians and endangering their lives.

All that calls for an immediate review of the present US policy regarding Iran's civilian aviation sanctions. Till now, none of the US officials have presented a valid case for imposition of these sanctions. It is important to note that these sanctions are about passenger planes and are not for stealth bombers or fighter planes. Stuart A. Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence of United States in charge of coordinating US sanctions against Iran, in reaction to the recent air crash and while expressing his regrets claimed that there is no embargo regarding the spare parts sale but he failed to say what logic justifies sanctioning the sale of new airliners to Iran. Clearly the recent air crash and similar incidents negatively impacts the level of present waning confidence and dashes hope for better relations between Iran and the US.

 It seems that this is an opportune time for President Obama to take the initiative for realization of his rhetoric of change policy toward Iran by revoking the sanction of sale of civilian aircraft to Iran. This gesture of good will also has the potential to serve American economy by opening the bidding for billions of dollars for Boeing and other American companies.