Report: Secret plan to help Iran thwarted
2 American banks refused to participate
After striking an elusive nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration found itself in a quandary in early 2016: Iran had been promised access to its long-frozen overseas reserves, including $5.7 billion stuck in an Omani bank.
To spend it, Iran wanted to convert the money into U.S. dollars and then euros, but top U.S. officials had repeatedly promised Congress that Iran would never gain access to America’s financial system.
Those assurances notwithstanding, the Obama administration secretly issued a license to let Iran sidestep U.S. sanctions for the brief moment required to convert the funds through an American bank, an investigation by Senate Republicans released Wednesday showed. The plan failed when two U.S. banks refused to participate.
Yet two years later, the revelation is re-igniting the bitter debate over the nuclear deal and whether former President Barack Obama was too eager to grant concessions to Tehran.
“The Obama administration misled the American people and Congress because they were desperate to get a deal with Iran,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who chairs the Senate panel that conducted the investigation.
And Republican Rep. Ed Royce, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, accused Obama of trying to “hide a secret push to give the ayatollah access to the U.S. dollar.”
Not so, former Obama administration officials said, arguing the decision to grant the license adhered to the spirt of the deal, which included allowing Iran to regain access to foreign reserves that had been off-limits because of U.S. sanctions. They said the public assurances that Iran would be kept out were intended to dispel incorrect reports about nonexistent proposals that would have gone much farther by letting Iran actually buy or sell things in dollars.
The former Obama officials disputed that the momentary access to U.S. banks to convert funds through the dollar constituted “access to the U.S. financial system.” What’s more, they dismissed the report as another example of a faulty approach to Iran policy by Republicans and by President Donald Trump, who last month withdrew the U.S. from the landmark 2015 nuclear accord.