WASHINGTON — New changes to Iran sanctions that will ease the flow of communications tools into the country are not specifically timed to the upcoming presidential elections, senior Obama administration officials said on Thursday.
"The timing is really driven by the continued crackdown within Iran" on the flow of information, said one official during a phone call with reporters when asked if the new rules were made strategically with the elections in mind. "There's been an increasing trend in their efforts of new and ever more complex and villainous ways to crack down on the free flow of information inside the country using sophisticated methods."
Another official described the changes, which will loosen restrictions on American companies exporting software, mobile phones, and other communications technology to Iran, as "consistent with our overall policy to continue to put pressure on the regime while also sending a signal to the Iranian people that we stand with them."
The newly relaxed rules have been interpreted as an effort to curry favor among the Iranian people before the presidential elections, which are less than a month away. Social media and mobile technology formed an important component of the 2009 Green Revolution after the presidential elections that year.
Officials also spoke on the other big change in the United States' Iran policy, the new designations of people in Iran deemed guilty of human rights abuses. The Supreme Leader's deputy chief of staff, Asghar Mir-Hejazi, is on this list, as well as the government agency that censors Internet content and the Ofogh Saberin Engineering Development Company, which "has provided material support to censorship or other activities with respect to Iran on or after June 12, 2009, that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran," according to a State Department press release. The State Department has also put 60 people on a visa restriction list for alleged human rights abuses.
"We continue to be gravely concerned by human rights abuses by the Iranian government," a senior administration official said.
Mir-Hejazi has been "very active behind the scnes in empowering Iran's intelligence and security services in ordering and carrying out crackdowns" against the Iranian people, the official said.
Meanwhile, Congress is mulling much tougher Iran sanctions. The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a new piece of legislation last week that would slash Iran's oil exports and heavily restrict its access to foreign currency.
Asked about the impact of the new sanctions on the Iranian people, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a main supporter of the legislation, told BuzzFeed last week that "It's going to have a negative impact on everybody in Iran, because they're paying the price for threatening the peace and stability of the rest of the world."