The Obama administration, facing a violent backlash in Congress, swears up and down that it does not mean to give Iran direct access to U.S. banks. When pressed, however, it seems that the president is trying to achieve the same result, a unilateral concession to Iran that bolsters its economy, only by different means.
The administration’s move is particularly egregious since it sold the deal on the basis that it would not be able to “clear” U.S. dollars in our banks and would be subject to sanctions for its non-nuclear behavior. Certainly, the administration attempted to convince skeptics of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that Iran would not be trading in dollars, as Clifford May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies recalls:
Mr. Obama and his deputies were adamant about this when they were attempting to persuade Congress to go along with the JCPOA. There was one specific and enormous concession that Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew specifically assured Congress would not be granted: access to dollar transactions and the American financial system. “Iranian banks will not be able to clear U.S. dollars through New York, hold correspondent account relationships with US financial institutions, or enter into financing arrangements with U.S. banks,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Iran, in other words, will continue to be denied access to the world’s largest financial and commercial market.”
Critics of the deal, who claimed the administration was dishonest in selling the deal, seem vindicated. “Although the Administration has denied that Iran will directly have access to our banking system, this may be a deceptive sleight of hand,” says an official at a pro-Israel organization. “What the Administration may be planning is providing Iran access to the dollar through a middle-man, off-shore clearing houses. The net result would be that Iran would be enriched to finance aggression and its terrorist proxies. This is no time to let our guard down.”
Considering that President Obama went out of his way to include Iran in the visa waiver program and has not responded in any meaningful way to Iran’s illegal missile tests, regional aggression and human rights violations, one must conclude that the mandate for the remaining months of this presidency is in effect, “Give Iran whatever it wants. Let the next guy/gal clean up the mess.” (May recounts that “since the conclusion of the JCPOA, [the Iranians] have been ‘testing’ ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, aiding and abetting the slaughter in Syria, supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen, and threatening Israelis with genocide. They have seized and humiliated American sailors. Recently, for the first time ever, the U.S. Justice Department charged state-sponsored individuals – seven Iranians – with hacking to disrupt critical American infrastructure.”)
Republicans are fuming, and a few Democrats (including House whip Steny Hoyer) have spoken out against continued concessions. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), writing in The Post today, argues:
Allowing a belligerent Iran access to the U.S. dollar poses real dangers to our country and economy. In February, the Financial Action Task Force — an organization comprising nearly 40 nations — warned that it is “exceptionally concerned about Iran’s failure to address the risk of terrorist financing and the serious threat this poses” to the world’s financial system. That’s why I’m working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on legislation to put in place strict statutory prohibitions to keep Iran from receiving the benefits of accessing the U.S. financial system.
Iran has seen what Obama will do to preserve his nuclear deal, and it’s taking full advantage. The United States cannot cave again.
Whatever the president’s motivation, Congress can, if the bulk of Democrats stop incessantly circling the wagons around the White House, put an end to this. The Republican-controlled House can pass a sanctions bill with real teeth, impacting entire segments of the Iranian economy and heading off the president’s dollar “laundering” gambit. It can also vote to extend sanctions the president has waived, making sure that these tools are available to the next president.
The question then will be what Senate Democrats and Hillary Clinton do. They can double down on their support for a flawed deal, cementing their image as enablers of Iran and reckless in betraying our regional allies (both Israel and Sunni states). Alternatively, Senate Democrats can achieve a bipartisan, veto-proof majority for a robust package of sanctions.
After her loss in Wisconsin last night, Clinton may be more wary than usual of stepping away from the president, but surely she knows that the nomination is virtually locked up. She must begin showing a general-election audience that she is not the twin of the dangerously misguided president. Surely, a popular issue such as getting tough with Iran is a good place to begin. Her rhetoric is definitely tougher on Iran than Obama’s has been; now it is time for her and fellow Democrats to translate their outrage over unilateral giveaways into a concrete stance on the pressing issue of sanctions.