Admin Accused of Misleading Congress on Cash Release to Iran
By Adam Kredo
April 26, 2016
The Obama administration faces accusations it has been
misleading Congress about the amount and destination of sanctions relief being
provided to Iran as part of last summer’s nuclear agreement, according to
lawmakers and congressional sources who expressed anger at the administration
over a range of contradictory facts being offered about the payouts.
Secretary of State John Kerry came under scrutiny last week
after saying in a statement that Iran has received
only about $3 billion in sanctions relief to date—a figure far
smaller than the $100 billion estimate administration officials had
previously said Iran would receive under the deal. It also contradicts statements
from top Iranian officials that they had regained control of $100
billion in foreign reserves unfrozen under the deal.
The statement came amid congressional allegations, detailed
by the Washington Free Beacon, that Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister
Javid Zarif are engaged in a campaign to facilitate even more sanctions relief
than Iran is entitled to under the deal. Congressional sources suggested that
Kerry’s statements about the amount and nature of this money might be part of
The issue has frustrated lawmakers who remain concerned
that Iran will use this newly available money to fund its global terrorism
Attempts by congressional offices to clarify the source of
Kerry’s claim have gone unmet by the State Department, which also declined
repeated requests from the Free Beacon to provide specific estimates
as to how much money Iran will be able to access under the deal.
“Do you remember the debate over how much money Iran was
going to get?” Kerry asked during a recent speech before supporters of the
left-leaning advocacy group J Street. “You heard—sometimes you hear some of
the presidential candidates putting a mistaken figure out of 155 billion. I’ve
never heard—we never thought it would be that.”
“Others thought it would be about $100 billion because
there was supposedly $100 billion that was owed, and so forth,” Kerry said.
“We calculated it to be about $55 billion when you really take a hard look at
the economy and what is happening. Guess what, folks—you know how much they
have received to date as I stand here tonight? About $3 billion. So what we said
to people was true.”
The State Department has been unable to provide
congressional officials with specific details regarding the source of Kerry’s
claim, prompting accusations from some that the administration is obfuscating
details about the amount of money Iran will gain access to under the nuclear
“The secretary was making the point that the claims that
$100 or $150 billion in Iranian assets would be unfrozen were, as we always
knew, wrong,” a State Department official informed congressional sources
following a request for information on Kerry’s figure, according to a copy of
that exchange obtained by the Free Beacon. “We have estimated that as
a result of this lifting of financial and banking secondary sanctions, Iran’s
usable liquid assets are about $50 billion, of the approximately $100 billion in
its own funds in overseas accounts.”
This estimate “is based on our awareness that Iran
nominally has about $100 billion dollars total in foreign exchange assets
overseas, with about $50 billion already committed,” the official said. “On
the specific amount of money the Iranians have used so far, I don’t have
anything to add. I don’t think anyone would have expected that Iran would use
all of its estimated $50 billion abroad in three months since implementation
The State Department did not respond to further attempts by
congressional officials to discern the source of these claims.
A State Department official would not provide the Free
Beacon with a total estimate of how much Iran would receive in unfrozen
assets as a result of the deal.
The situation has left some in Congress frustrated over
what they call attempts by the administration to mislead about the total amount
of money Iran will receive.
“While bragging to J Street, Secretary of State Kerry
inexplicably claimed Iran has only ‘received’ $3 billion in sanctions relief
under the nuclear deal,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) told the Free Beacon.
“The administration and its supporters won’t hold Iran fully accountable for
ballistic missile tests and now they are obfuscating the nuclear deal’s
financial benefits to Iran.”
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), a member of the House
intelligence committee, also criticized the administration for rebuffing
attempts to fully determine the amount of sanctions relief being awarded to
“Secretary Kerry himself has acknowledged that some of
this money will end up in the hands of terrorists,” Pompeo told the Free
Beacon. “The State Department’s inability, or refusal, to accurately
estimate the amount of money the Islamic Republic of Iran is receiving raises
even more serious questions.”
“Whether Iran has received $3 billion in sanctions relief
so far, as Secretary of State John Kerry seems to think, or whether it will get
$150 billion, as other experts estimate, it is all far too much money to be
flowing to the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” Pompeo said.
The claim also has rankled senior Republican foreign policy
aides in Congress, who recently circulated an internal email in the Senate
disputing Kerry’s claim.
With the subject line “When does $100 billion = $3
billion?”, the email reads, “When you’re the secretary of state trying to
mislead the American people about the economic benefits redounding to Iran under
the nuclear agreement,” according to a copy obtained by the Free Beacon.
“It is completely misleading for Secretary Kerry to
suggest that the economic benefit Iran has received under the JCPOA thus far is
only $3 billion,” the email continues. “Iran has been given access to $100
billion in its foreign exchange reserves and its economy receives the benefit of
that, even if it chooses not to repatriate all those funds. In fact, it would be
financial malpractice for it to repatriate all of those reserves immediately.
Having access to all of those funds, while keeping some of them outside the
country, presents an economic benefit to Iran.”
“No matter how the secretary of state may wish to
minimize the economic benefits accruing to Iran under the JCPOA, the simple fact
remains, the Iranian economy is benefiting from access to $100 billion as a
function of sanctions relief under the Iran nuclear agreement,” the email
One senior congressional aide who works on the Iran issue
told the Free Beacon that the State Department may not be able to
prove Kerry’s claim.
“The Iranian government says
the nuclear deal gave them access to roughly $100 billion in previously
frozen assets in foreign accounts, yet Secretary Kerry went before J Street to
claim that Iran only received ‘about $3 billion’ in sanctions relief,” the
source said. “I don’t know why the administration adamantly refuses to
detail the facts underlying Secretary Kerry’s curious claim, unless there are
no facts to actually detail.”
A recent investigation by
the Congressional Research Service determined that Iran has been spending
billions to pay terrorist fighters. Iran’s defense budget is believed to range
anywhere from $14 billion and $30 billion a year, with a large portion of that
going to fund terrorist groups and rebel fighters in a number of countries.