Legitimizing Iran: The US administration’s Middle East agenda

The time is now for Congress to act, to assert its constitutional responsibility regarding foreign policy in the name of American national security interests.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) waves to his supporters as Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Iran's Late Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, looks on during a ceremony to mark the death anniversary of the latter (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) waves to his supporters as Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Iran's Late Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, looks on during a ceremony to mark the death anniversary of the latter
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘There’s a reason Tehran is under financial quarantine. The intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering.... said it was ‘exceptionally concerned about Iran’s failure to address the risk of terrorist financing.’”
Wall Street Journal editorial
Last year, while lobbying the American people to support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, President Barack Obama repeatedly reassured undecided members of Congress that the deal was only about ending the Iranian nuclear program.
Current sanctions for Iranian human rights abuses and support of terrorism, i.e. Hezbollah and Hamas, would not only remain in place, but be strictly adhered to, as new sanctions would be considered without regard to the JCPOA.
The president’s overarching strategy since 2009 has been trying to find ways to strengthen Iran, legitimize the revolutionary republic, and bring it into the family of nations. To fit this square Iranian peg in the round hole of nations that abide by civilized norms, the administration ignored the relentless attacks of Ayatollah Khamenei, such as, “The power-hungry order led by the United States of America is the perfectly clear embodiment of ‘the concept of the enemy.’ America has no human morality.” The White House TV was off the day of Iran’s “End of America” week, featuring cries of “Death to America.”
The president has said “Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism,” and then acts as though it weren’t true.
Talking the talk on Iran but never walking the walk, never putting teeth to his rhetorical flourishes. It must be remembered that the president was against implementing congressional sanctions on Iran back in 2010, but only embraced them when he realized he couldn’t overrule them with executive action. He then got the last laugh, when he waived many of the important sanction provisions.
Now an even more dangerous violation of the administration’s commitments on Iran is taking place behind closed doors and at breakneck speed, to purposely bypass congressional oversight. The president and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew are preparing to contradict the secretary’s 2015 testimony to Congress during the debate on the JCPOA, when he told the Corker/Cardin Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Iranian banks will not be able to clear US dollars through New York,” or “hold correspondent account relationships with US financial institutions, or enter into financing arrangements with US banks.”
The Treasury’s chief of sanctions, Adam Szubin, told Congress Iran will not “even [be able] to execute a dollarized transaction where a split second’s worth of business is done in a New York clearing bank.”
As Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies wrote, “the Obama administration vowed that the Islamic Republic would never get the ultimate prize: access to the US financial system or dollar transactions.”
The administration is trying to get around the current US Treasury restrictions and avoid congressional oversight by creating “offshore dollar clearing houses for Iranian financial institutions,” this according to The Wall Street Journal. How can this be when at the present time, “The Treasury Department designates Iran’s entire financial system as a ‘primary money laundering concern’”? Why is the administration doing this? According to the Wall Street Journal, “Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has stressed in recent weeks the need for the U.S. to comply with the ‘letter and spirit’ of the nuclear agreement and help Iran gain economic relief.”
The most likely explanation is that the ayatollah threatened to walk away from the nuclear agreement if Iran didn’t receive access to the American financial system. It has a willing accomplice in Secretary of State John Kerry, who seems blinded by his own dreams of legacy and desire for a Nobel peace prize.
Just as the administration has rationalized Iranian transgressions of the JCPOA and UNSC 2231, its supposed companion document, it is expected that the administration will come up with a new list of reasons why Iran deserves this financial access. It will begin by telling the American people that this is actually a way for America to better monitor Iran’s financial transgressions.
This is not naiveté, but a carefully thought-out strategy to legitimize Iran, as a counterbalance to the Sunni world. Unfortunately these acts of appeasement have had the opposite effect, emboldening Iran to ask for more and more concessions, even as the ink is not still dry on the JCPOA. Well, not literally – there is no ink; this agreement was never signed by Iran.
The administration has shown a complete lack of understanding of the nature of the Iranian Revolutionary Regime, and how this regime negotiates.
Iran has correctly interpreted the administration’s zero response to its recent in-your-face violations as one party, Obama, wanting to sustain the JCPOA more than the other, Iran. It has made Iran more intransigent, and just increased their demands. That is how we come to be discussing letting the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism into the American financial system.
Just to review, below is a small sampling of what the administration has ignored just since last summer, so as not to endanger the JCPOA:
• Ignoring UNSC 2231, forbidding Iran to work on ballistic missile development for eight years
• Ignoring UNSC 1929, banning Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests
• Allowing the Parchin military site to be sanitized
• Ignoring Iranian missiles fired within 1,400 meters of a US aircraft carrier
• Ignoring Iran publicizing photos of American sailors being humiliated following capture
• Ignoring the proposed Russian sale to Iran of Sukhoi Su-30s, MIG-35s, T-90 battle tanks, S-300 surface to air missiles, and amphibious vehicles
• Allowing the release of Hamid Arabnejad, who supplied weapons to Hezbollah and the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad Congress has to act fast if there is to be any chance of slowing or thwarting the president’s unilateral actions on allowing Iran into our financial system.
One of the most principled members of Congress, Democratic Representative Grace Meng of New York, who was one of the first Democrats to come out against the JCPOA, was troubled by the news stories of the new Iranian access to the American financial system.
She wrote to Secretary Kerry, asking, “Is the administration considering permitting Iranian banks to clear financial transactions by utilizing US dollars?
1. Is this true?
2. In the past year, how many Iranian banks have offered financial support of any kind to Hamas?
3. To Hezbollah?
4. To any other designated terrorist organization?
5. What is the name of each bank covered by your response to questions two through four?” Hopefully other Democratic and Republican members of Congress will follow the lead of Congresswoman Meng and Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer who is also troubled by this dangerous revelation.
As a Wall Street Journal editorial stated, “[E]ven in the post-nuclear deal world, Iran continues to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars and arms to Hezbollah, Hamas, the Afghan Taliban and other groups with American blood on their hands... President Obama insisted that he would ‘vigorously’ enforce sanctions on Iran for supporting terrorism.”
The time is now for Congress to act, to assert its constitutional responsibility regarding foreign policy in the name of American national security interests. Keep Iran out of the American financial system.
The author is the director of MEPIN™. MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org) is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists.
He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.