Hassan Rouhani
Hassan RouhaniAFP photo

The Obama administration has eased restraints on humanitarian and good-will activities between Iran and the United States.

The U.S. Treasury announced Tuesday that it would permit private organizations to support humanitarian program in Iran, and sports groups to hold exchanges with the country.

Opening up a window of cooperation in its tight sanctions crackdown on Iran, the Treasury issued "general licenses", or permits, for the two areas of activity. It said this would "encourage humanitarian and goodwill services between the Iranian and American people."

The move comes in response to a newly elected Iranian president, Hasan Rouhani, who has stirred interest in Washington with his overtures about improving ties.

The department said it had now given the green light to "activities related to sports matches and events, the sponsorship of sports players, coaching, refereeing and training, in addition to other activities.” In addition the department said the relaxing of some sanctions would make it easier to supply health services, disaster relief, wildlife conservation and human rights projects related funding to the country which has not announced any change to its nuclear program.

Following the announcement, a report in the New York Times suggested the move had come hot on the heels of an embarrassing incident which saw an Iranian tennis referee, Adel Borghei, hired to work at the recent US Open, blocked from taking part due to Treasury Department sanctions.

Although both licenses that have been authorized stress that the activities cannot involve any Iranian companies or organizations blacklisted by the United States under its tight sanctions regime, the move will likely to be seen as confused following recent U.S. criticism of the new Iranian president, that he was not doing enough to respond to international concerns about his country's nuclear program.

Earlier this month, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told a meeting of the 15-nation Security Council on Iran sanctions : "Unfortunately, we have not yet seen any clear signs that Iran is committed to addressing the most pressing concerns about its nuclear program." 

Even as recently as yesterday (Tuesday) the Mehr news agency reported President Hassan Rouhani said in speech to clerics that Iran would not give up "one iota" of its nuclear rights.

Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said hat Iran had further boosted its capacity for uranium enrichment.

The easing of sanctions is likely to be a disappointment for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been keen to keep pressure up on Teheran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.