Tuesday, 19 June, 2018

Secret Obama-era license let Iran tap dollars

US President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington Thursday Obama administration tried secret bank workaround for Iran, new report says
Sammy Stanley | 09 June, 2018, 20:33

An Army veteran wounded by an Iran-made bomb slammed the Obama administration in the wake of a report that it granted a license letting Iran access the United States financial system and then misled the public about it.

"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. However to be able to entry them rapidly, they sought to alternate the funds for USA first, earlier than changing them to euros.

"If the Omani bank had allowed the exchange without such a license, it would have violated sanctions that bar Iran from transactions that touch the USA financial system", the AP report added.

Last month, President Donald Trump announced that he was withdrawing from the 2015 deal reached among seven countries after more than two years of negotiations, calling it "a awful, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made". The report drills down deeper, naming the specific financial institution involved - the Iranian Bank Muscat was allowed to move almost $6 billion through the U.S. marketplace. The banks refused, however.

In July 2015 then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told lawmakers Iran "will continue to be denied access to the world's largest financial and commercial market", referring to the U.S.

Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bill McGurn discusses the report that the Obama administration gave Iran brief access to the US financial system.

The findings are at odds with statements from senior Obama White House, State Department and Treasury Department officials who repeatedly said Iran would continue to lack access to the US financial and commercial markets following the implementation of the Iran deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Under Secretary Adam Szubin doubled down on this false assurance: "Iranian banks will not be able to clear USA dollars through NY, hold correspondent account relationships with US financial institutions, or enter into financing arrangements with USA banks".

The Senate disapproved the deal in September 2015, but not by enough votes to sink it.

And when questioned by lawmakers about the possibility of granting Iran any kind of access to the US financial system, Obama-era officials never volunteered that the specific license for Bank Muscat in Oman had been issued two months earlier.

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"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".

Under the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran was promised access to overseas reserves of its own funds that had been frozen by sanctions.

The banks correctly concluded that a myriad of legal and liability issues prevented their participation - a conclusion the Treasury Department would have been wise to reach itself. "Nevertheless, as a gesture of support for Iran's getting access, we helped on this as we will on other cases". A month later, one of Lew's top deputies, Adam Szubin, testified that despite the nuclear deal "Iran will be denied access to the world's most important market and unable to deal in the world's most important currency". They warned that unless Tehran was willing to give up more, the US shouldn't give Iran anything more than it already had.

USA sanctions block Iran from exchanging the money on its own. "He explained OFAC would only take action in egregious situations".

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 Administration was crystal clear to Congress on this point.

- Informed future negotiations with Iran.

Former Obama administration officials declined to comment for the record.

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