Musk to seek exemption from Iran sanctions for Web access

WASHINGTON (AP) — Elon Musk’s hopes of operating his satellite internet company in Iran require approval from the Treasury Department, which said on Tuesday it welcomed requests to support internet freedom in the country largely isolated from Western economies.

The Tesla CEO tweeted Monday that his satellite internet company Starlink would apply for permission to operate in Iran. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said it was up to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to decide on Starlink’s next steps.

“We have, of course, historically provided various forms of exceptions to the ability of the Iranian people to communicate with each other and with the world,” Sullivan said during a White House news conference on Tuesday.

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Starlink, a division of spacecraft manufacturer SpaceX, also owned by Musk, has been operational since 2019. It distributes thousands of satellites orbiting the earth to provide global broadband access.

The company tried to provide internet access to the Ukrainian population during the Russian invasion and has had contracts with the US military since 2021.

If Starlink Internet access is made available to the Iranian people, it could face objections from the government, which tightly controls Internet access.

A Treasury Department spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity as no application was received, said the Office of Foreign Assets Control welcomes applications for licenses to authorize Internet freedom support activities in Iran.

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In 2014, the Sanctions Department of the Ministry of Finance issued a license authorizing the export to Iran of software and services that would enable the free exchange of communications over the Internet, with the intention of promoting the free flow of information for Iranian citizens.

Despite the approval, companies have been reluctant to do business in Iran for fear of violating existing sanctions and other laws that impose penalties.

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However, in January 2021, Github – a source code storage service – announced that it had secured a license from the Ministry of Finance to offer its services to developers in Iran.

“We have been able to show how developers’ use of GitHub fuels human progress, international communications, and the ongoing U.S. foreign policy of promoting free speech and the free flow of information,” the company’s website states.

A SpaceX representative did not respond to an Associated Press request for comment.

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