Iran claims to have secured access to “more than $100 billion” from sanctions relief — nearly twice what the Obama administration has long claimed would be the case.
The Washington Times reported that the Obama administration is finding itself on the defensive amid rising charges that the U.S. and its allies lowballed the estimate of the billions of dollars Iran will reap from the deal that curbed Tehran’s nuclear programs in exchange for the lifting of punishing economic sanctions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani just finished a shopping spree across Europe, and critics fear the nation’s military and hard-line security forces now have the funds to do the same, as Tehran claims to have secured access to “more than $100 billion” from sanctions relief — roughly twice what the Obama administration has long claimed would be the case.
Analysts say the bulk of the cash now freed up for Iran is linked to bank accounts in countries that were Iran’s top oil clients prior to the imposition of sanctions, including India, China, Japan, South Korea and Turkey.
How Iran planned to use its newly freed cash and its ability to cut deals internationally emerged as one of the key sticking points of the Iran deal. Administration officials such as Secretary of State John F. Kerry insisted that the deal’s critics were vastly overstating the boost to Iran’s economy and government coffers, and argued that Tehran would target any influx of cash first to its battered economy and crumbling infrastructure rather than to military hardware or the financing of proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah abroad.
Political bickering over the exact dollar figure had appeared to fade recently in Washington. But it surged back into the limelight this week when Iranian media quoted Mohammad Bager Nobakht, a government spokesman, as saying the assets frozen by the sanctions “have fully been released and we can use them.”
While Iran’s state-run Press TV said the bulk of the money won’t actually be sent home to domestic banks but used for purchases and investments abroad, the figure cited in the report prompted a wave of hand-wringing in Washington.
By Monday night, sparks were flying between journalists and the Obama administration over just what the correct figures were.
Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon sparked an online back-and-forth when he tweeted: “Iran claims it now has access to [$100 billion] in frozen oil revenues under #IranDeal; @WhiteHouse said it would be $50 billion.”
Less than three minutes later, Marie Harf, a senior adviser to Mr. Kerry, hit back with a tweet of her own: “Important clarification — it was experts at @USTreasury Dept who did the math & determined how much $ Iran would actually get.”
That prompted David Rothkopf, the CEO of the company that publishes Foreign Policy magazine, to jump into the fray, tweeting, “Is that really an important clarification? Isn’t Treasury part of the administration? Weird distinction.”
That’s just the word one U.S. official used when pressed about the situation by The Washington Times. “It was never our intention to be in this weird back and forth over” the exact amount the Iranians would get from sanctions relief, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The bottom line is Iran has resources,” the official said. “We know they’ve spent money to fund terrorism. They’re a state sponsor of terrorism, and no one’s talking about taking them off that list. This talk about the money misses the bigger point, which is about Iran’s nuclear program and how the nuclear deal will prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.
“This is just a number that our Treasury folks came up with when they looked at this and said, ‘This is what we think what they could realistically have access to under sanctions relief.’”