January 22, 2019

GOP: Obama admin tried to let Iran bypass sanctions

09 June 2018, 08:33 | Devin Moran

Sen. Rob Portman R-Ohio speaks during a news conference in Cincinnati

Sen. Rob Portman R-Ohio speaks during a news conference in Cincinnati

"Despite claims both before and after the Iran deal was completed that the US financial system would remain off limits, the Obama administration issued a specific license allowing Iran to convert billions of dollars in assets using the USA financial system".

Not only that, Senate investigators found that officials from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which regulates US banks' compliance with USA sanctions law, "encouraged two US correspondent banks to convert the funds".

A report released by Republican senators on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation said the Obama administration didn't tell Congress that it sought access for Iran and, in its eagerness to clinch the nuclear deal, was trying to dodge sanctions that remained in place following the 2016 agreement.

The U.S., China, France, Russia, Germany and Britain signed a temporary deal in 2013 aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchanged for a rollback of crippling financial sanctions.

"Since Iran has kept its end of the deal, it is our responsibility to uphold ours, in both letter and spirit", Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in March 2016, without offering details. He said the license was not made public but that Obama administration officials were "transparent with Congress". But Jarrett Blanc, former State Department coordinator of the Iran deal, called the report "wildly overblown".

Without the license issued by the Treasury the proposed exchange would have run afoul of USA sanctions. The leaders of the two banks approached by the Obama administration, refused to convert, fearing that cooperation with Iran will lead to reputational losses. "Nevertheless, as a gesture of support for Iran's getting access, we helped on this as we will on other cases".

Eventually, Iranian officials "stopped complaining to the State Department" and converted small amounts of rials directly to euros without using the US financial system, the report says. Because the rial is pegged to the USA dollar, the most efficient conversion was with an intermediary step through a US bank using US dollars. Trump withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal last month.

That source pointed out that the license "did not authorize Iran to conduct commercial transactions denominated in U.S. dollars".

His comments and those of other top Obama administration officials drew the ire of the committee's Republican chairman.

Officials at Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control asked two United States banks to work as intermediaries and execute the transaction, but they declined, citing concern over potential regulatory backlash and a ding to their reputations. The global financial system is heavily intertwined with USA banks, making it almost impossible to conduct many worldwide transactions without touching NY in one way or another.

The report focuses on $5.7 billion from Iranian oil sales that were frozen in Oman's Bank Muscat in that country's currency, the rial.

That same week, the AP reported that the Treasury had prepared a draft of a license that would have given Iran much broader permission to convert its assets from foreign currencies into easier-to-spend currencies like euros, yen or rupees, by first exchanging them for dollars at offshore financial institutions. The dollars were then to be converted into euros.

Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran was granted relief from a number of financial sanctions - both US and global.

Because the clock counts down till US secondary sanctions are snapped again into place, European nations should weigh whether or not doing enterprise with Iran is price dropping entry to the USA monetary system or dealing with US sanctions penalties.

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