GOP: Obama admin tried to let Iran bypass sanctions

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) spoke to CNN's Brianna Keilar about the report he is unveiling that found the Obama administration worked to allow Iran to exchange billions to bypass sanctions, but was stopped by the banks.

Posted: Jun 8, 2018 6:05 AM
Updated: Jun 8, 2018 6:07 AM

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman said he wants future agreements with Iran and North Korea to be informed by a recent report from Senate Republicans accusing the Obama administration of secretly trying to give Tehran access to the US financial system.

Portman told CNN on Thursday that one of the report's legislative recommendations is transparency over similar sanctions relief licenses.

"In the future, whether it is another (Iran) agreement ... (or) whether it is an agreement with North Korea, which I hope we will end up with at some point, following this summit (with North Korea) -- we need to be sure that Congress and the American people are told," Portman said.

Portman's comments come less than a week before President Donald Trump is slated to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore to hash out a potential nuclear agreement.

A majority report by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released Wednesday focuses on the US Treasury's decision to grant a license to convert $5.7 billion from Iranian oil sales to American dollars so they could be converted to euros at the instruction of the US State Department.

Rejecting the accusation

Former Obama administration officials reject the accusation that they were trying to give Iran access to the US financial system, pointing to a Treasury Department decision that the effort to make the one-time transfer was legal.

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 $5.7 billion was frozen in Oman's Bank Muscat in that country's currency, the rial, which is pegged to the US dollar and difficult to convert. To access the money, Iran wanted to convert it briefly into dollars and then euros. Treasury officials concluded that the transaction was legal.

Republicans argue that Obama administration officials, in their eagerness to clinch the nuclear deal and push the license forward, violated financial and oil related sanctions imposed on Iran after its seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 by trying to give Iran access to the US financial system. Their report acknowledges that there was nothing illegal about the attempted transfer.

Trump on Thursday called for an investigation into the matter.

"The Obama Administration is now accused of trying to give Iran secret access to the financial system of the United States. This is totally illegal. Perhaps we could get the 13 Angry Democrats to divert some of their energy to this 'matter' (as [former FBI Director James] Comey would call it). Investigate!" Trump tweeted.

The report recommends further informing Congress about future negotiations with Iran, requiring the Treasury Department to give notice of specific licenses, reviewing all Iran deal-related licenses, and increasing policing of US sanctions policies, regardless of what country they are for.

Obama administration officials privy to the details of the Iran deal dismissed the Republicans' report and accusations that the administration misled Congress about the license. They said the Republican senators never interviewed former Obama administration officials involved and noted that no Democrats were involved.

Jarrett Blanc, the former State Department coordinator for Iran deal implementation at the State Department, said the story was "widely overblown."

"(T)his is the kind of work the US Government needs to do every day to make our sanctions regimes effective without creating such burdens on allies and partners that they are pushed to work around our financial dominance," Blanc said.

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