Boeing Takes Step Toward Deal to Sell Jetliners to Iran

The Boeing Company said on Tuesday that it had taken a step toward the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran, in what would be the most significant business deal between that country and an American company in decades.

The company issued a statement confirming that it had signed what is known as a “memorandum of agreement” with Iran Air, Iran’s national carrier, “expressing the airline’s intent to purchase Boeing commercial passenger airplanes.”

Boeing issued the statement following assertions by Iranian aviation officials in recent days that the two sides had negotiated a deal for the purchase of 100 Boeing jetliners, including new generations of the popular 737 and 777 models.

The statement did not specify the number of aircraft, models or potential value of an agreement, and Boeing officials declined to provide further details. There has been speculation in the industry that a Boeing-Iran deal could be worth $17 billion to $25 billion.

Such a sale, especially of that magnitude, would send a powerful signal that the United States and Iran are moving toward a more normalized relationship after four decades of hostility.

Iranian state media first reported last week that a deal with Boeing had been reached and would be finalized soon. Boeing did not dispute the Iranian media accounts, but Tuesday was the first time that it confirmed that both sides had signed an agreement involving the sale of planes.

Iran’s purchase of American aircraft and parts is permitted under the agreement the country reached nearly a year ago with world powers over its nuclear program, which relaxed or ended many economic sanctions in exchange for Iran’s verifiable pledges of peaceful atomic work.

Any deal negotiated by Boeing still requires approval by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is responsible for enforcing compliance with sanctions involving Iran that were unaffected by the nuclear agreement.

The Boeing statement made clear that it had negotiated with Iran “under authorizations from the U.S. government following a determination that Iran had met its obligations under the nuclear accord reached last summer.”

The statement also said Boeing would “continue to follow the lead of the U.S. government with regards to working with Iran’s airlines, and any and all contracts with Iran’s airlines will be contingent upon U.S. government approval.”

Boeing’s European competitor Airbus announced an agreement worth roughly $27 billion in January, when the nuclear deal went into effect, to sell Iran 118 aircraft. That deal also requires American government approval because Airbus planes contain American components. The approval is still pending.

Iran is in dire need of replacement aircraft for its aging commercial fleet, one of the world’s oldest. Iranian aviation officials have said they are in the market to acquire at least 400 planes in coming years.