Obama Considers Helping Iran Financially, Outside of Nuclear Deal
“Ballistic missiles, support for terrorism, destabilizing activities in the region, that’s not the nuclear deal,” a US security adviser said amid reports that Obama may ease financial restrictions on Iran.
The Obama administration is considering easing financial restrictions that prohibit U.S. dollars from being used in transactions with Iran, U.S. officials said. Angry lawmakers countered that Tehran would be getting more than it deserves from last year’s nuclear accord.
While no final decision has been made, officials told The Associated Press that the Treasury Department has prepared a general license permitting offshore financial institutions to access dollars for foreign currency trades in support of legitimate business with Iran, a practice that is currently illegal.
Several restrictions would apply, but the change could prove significant for Iran’s sanctions-battered economy. It also would be highly contentious in the United States, where Republican and some Democratic lawmakers say the administration promised to maintain a strict ban on dollars along with other non-nuclear penalties on Iran after last July’s seven-nation nuclear agreement.
“These reports are deeply concerning, to say the least,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday in a statement. “As Iran continues to undermine the spirit of its nuclear agreement with illicit ballistic missile tests, the Obama administration is going out of its way to help Tehran reopen for business. The president should abandon this idea.”
The nuclear pact provided Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief for curtailing programs that could lead to nuclear weapons. But the Iranians say they haven’t benefited to the extent envisioned under the deal because of other U.S. measures linked to human rights, terrorism and missile development concerns.
Because of its status as the world’s dominant currency, the dollar often is used in money conversions. For example: If the Iranians want to sell oil to India and be paid in euros instead of rupees, so they could more easily purchase European goods, the process commonly starts with the rupees being converted into dollars.
American sanctions block Iran from exchanging the money on its own. And Asian and European banks are wary because U.S. regulators have levied billions of dollars in fines in recent years and threatened transgressors with a cutoff from the far more lucrative American market. Using dollars to make even a rupees-to-euros conversion, following that example, would still involve the money entering the U.S. financial system, if only momentarily.
The new guidance would allow dollars to be used in currency exchanges as long as no Iranian banks are involved, according to the officials, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. No Iranian rials can enter into the transaction, and the payment wouldn’t be able to start or end with American dollars. The ban would still apply if the final payment is intended for an Iranian individual or business on a U.S. sanctions blacklist.
‘We Do Believe They [Iran] Are Complying’
Top administration officials have only hinted at providing Iran additional help.
“We do believe that they are complying” with the nuclear accord, Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters Thursday, despite several reports indicating Iran has violated the deal on more than one occasion. “Ballistic missiles, support for terrorism, destabilizing activities in the region, that’s not the nuclear deal,” Rhodes said. “It’s a separate set of issues in which we have the ability to respond.”
In March, Iran reportedly fired two ballistic missiles at a target some 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) away, with the words “Israel must be wiped out” written on them.
In a speech Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said, “Since Iran has kept its end of the deal, it is our responsibility to uphold ours, in both letter and spirit.”
Lew warned that “sanctions overreach” risked driving business away from the United States, hurting the U.S. and global economy and empowering economic rivals.
“If foreign jurisdictions and
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