Obama Tried to Give Iran Brief Window to Exchange Currency

Report sheds light on the delicate balance the Obama administration sought to strike after nuclear deal
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 6, 2018 4:29 PM CDT
Secret License Would Have Let Iran Briefly Convert Funds to US Dollars
In this Jan. 17, 2016 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks about the release of Americans by Iran, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

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 US dollars and then euros, but top US officials had repeatedly promised Congress that Iran would never gain access to America's financial system, reports the AP. Those assurances notwithstanding, the Obama administration secretly issued a license to let Iran sidestep US 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 US banks refused to participate. Yet two years later, the revelation is re-igniting the bitter debate over the nuclear deal and whether 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 US dollar." Not so, former Obama administration officials said, arguing the decision to grant the license adhered to the spirit of the deal, which included allowing Iran to regain access to foreign reserves that had been off-limits because of US 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 AP has much more on the report.

(Read more Iran stories.)

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