Jun 09 2018 by Desiree Burns
"Officials repeatedly testified to Congress that Iranian access to the US financial system was not on the table or part of any deal", says the majority report of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
"On Feb. 24, 2016, the Treasury Department issued a specific license to Bank Muscat to authorize the conversion of Iran's rials to euros through 'any United States depository institution ...,'" the draft report said.
The effort was unsuccessful because American banks - themselves afraid of running afoul of US sanctions - declined to participate.
An investigation by Senate Republicans released Wednesday sheds light on the delicate balance the Obama administration sought to strike after the deal, as it worked to ensure Iran received its promised benefits without playing into the hands of the deal's opponents.
The Obama administration sought to allow Iran access, however brief, to the USA financial system following the 2015 nuclear deal despite public assurances it would refrain from doing so, a Republican-led Senate investigation said Wednesday.
In September 2015, Adam Szubin, Obama's Beneath Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Monetary Intelligence, stated in a speech, "Iran won't be able to open financial institution accounts with USA banks, nor will Iran be capable of entry the USA banking sector, even for that momentary transaction to, what we name, dollarize a global cost" - the very transfer Treasury granted Iran.
For example, in July 2015, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that, under the JCPOA, Iran "will continue to be denied access to the [U.S.'s] financial and commercial market".
President Donald Trump exhibits a signed Presidential Memorandum after delivering an announcement on the Iran nuclear deal from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White Home, Might 8, 2018, in Washington.
As the Obama administration pondered how to address Iran's complaints in 2016, reports in The Associated Press and other media outlets revealed that the US was considering additional sanctions relief, including issuing licenses that would allow Iran limited transactions in dollars. Under that deal, the US and world powers gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.
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Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Monetary Intelligence Adam Szubin speaks to reporters through the day by day press briefing about combating funds going to the Islamic State group, on December 16, 2015, on the White Home. "Despite claims both before and after the Iran deal was completed that the USA financial system would remain off limits, the Obama administration issued a specific license allowing Iran to convert billions of dollars in assets using the US financial system".
McGurn said scandals are the norm in most administrations, but he finds the Obama administration's dealings with Iran in a category of its own that involve misleading Congress and the public.
The report concludes this line of thinking with an illumination of the pressure being applied to private sector lenders in the hopes of facilitating the conversion within American borders, instead of having to eventually outsource the laundering of the Iranian money to European bankers.
Former Obama administration officials have said the decision to grant the license adhered to the spirit of the agreement, which included allowing Iran to regain access to foreign reserves that had been off-limits because of USA sanctions.
"To be clear, the U.S. Department of Treasury is not working on behalf of Iran to enable Iranian access to U.S. dollars elsewhere in the worldwide financial system, nor are we assisting Iran in gaining access to dollar payment systems outside the U.S. financial system".
Investigators also found internal State Department emails, in which officials admitted that the Obama administration had "exceeded our JCPOA commitments" by authorizing Iranian access to US banks.
His comments and those of other top Obama administration officials drew the ire of the committee's Republican chairman.
The situation resulted from the fact that Iran had stored billions in Omani rials, a currency that's notoriously hard to convert. That process commonly starts with the rupees being converted into dollars, just for a moment, before being converted once again into euros.
After Treasury officials were examining whether the Iran deal's relevant sanctions permit currency exchange of rials to dollars, the report says a Treasury official wrote in an email, "Yikes". But not only did it allow Iran to do so, it encouraged US banks to complete transactions for Iran.
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