Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen should give Elon Musk’s satellite Internet service Starlink a license to operate in heavily-sanctioned Iran as the country faces widespread protests, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said.
Musk “recently stated that SpaceX would seek a license to provide its satellite-based Starlink Internet service to Iran,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Yellen. “If such a license request is submitted, we urge you to approve it immediately.” In a tweet on Monday, he called for the release of masks.
The letter was spearheaded by Representatives Claudia Tenney, a New York Republican, and Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat, and signed by other lawmakers. They asked the Treasury to clarify its policies to encourage access to communications in authorized countries and urged the department to issue the necessary “comfort letters” to companies that may provide communications services under previously issued general licenses.
“Congress is urging the Treasury Department to do everything in its power to help the people of Iran stay connected to the Internet,” Tenney said in a statement. “We need to do this by cutting out any bureaucratic red tape.”
Protests erupted in Iran last Friday after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who fell into a coma after Tehran’s so-called morality police arrested her for violating the Islamic dress code. Protests have since been reported in several cities and towns including the capital Tehran, Karaj, Shiraz, Tabriz, Kerman, Kish Island, Yazd, Neshapur, Esfahan and Mashhad.
“Iranians are taking to the streets to demand justice for Mahsa,” Malinowski said. “We have a role to play in ensuring that Iranians remain connected to the outside world.”
Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the United States must do “everything in our power” to help “courageous Iranians protesting against injustice.”
A Treasury spokesman said the department already permits some services related to Internet communications, including the use of satellite terminals such as Starlink, and that it welcomes applications for specific licenses related to Internet freedom in Iran.
Daniel Tannebaum, a partner at Oliver Wyman, said companies are sometimes wary of opening themselves up to the risk of running afoul of US sanctions even if the services they provide are expressly approved by the Treasury. This is especially true in heavily sanctioned jurisdictions like Iran.
“It becomes a business decision based on the risk appetite of the space,” Tannebaum said in an interview. “You have to trust that you have the right controls to stay on the right side of the discount.”
The Treasury has begun advertising for a “chief sanctions economist” who officials say will help alleviate such concerns.