Scientific journals are reportedly
being asked to help tighten US trade sanctions on Iran. On April 30, Dutch publisher Elsevier
sent a note to its editorial network saying that all US editors and US reviewers must 'avoid' handling manuscripts if they include an author employed by the Iran government.
Under a policy that went into effect in March reflecting changes in a law passed by the US Congress in December, even companies like Elsevier that are not based in the US must prevent their US personnel from interacting with the Iranian government.
The sanctions, aimed at punishing Iran for its pursuit of nuclear technology, have been broadened somewhat from previous rules issued by the enforcement agency, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a division of the Treasury Department.
According to a treasury official, OFAC has not changed its 'general license' policy for journals; it still allows them to publish articles authored by nongovernmental scientists from Iran and other sanctioned countries. The new wrinkle is that OFAC insists that all US citizens, no matter who employs them, comply with the sanctions against papers authored by governmental researchers. That apparently prompted Elsevier to issue a warning to its employees.
An Elsevier spokesperson has explained that the new restrictions were expected to affect a small number of papers and that the company had implemented 'more specific sanctions … over the past year or two' as a result of UN recommendations.
OFAC tangled with scientific journals almost a decade ago when it proposed much harsher restrictions on communications from Iran. That led to an organised protest by the American Institute of Physics, the Association of American Publishers and others, resulting in the current understanding: OFAC permits the exhange of scientific but not government-sponsored communications from Iran.