The issue of post-deal sanctions relief for Iran – how much, when, and in what form – is a matter of some dispute. If you ask the mullahs in Tehran, that relief will be total and complete on the day that a nuclear accord is signed. According to officials in Washington, however, sanctions relief must come in stages and only as a result of verified compliance with the terms of the deal agreed to in Switzerland. The discrepancies on this issue are persistent.
But a compromise might have been worked out, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. That Friday report suggests that Iran’s desire to see immediate financial relief might be satisfied if Washington unfreezes the Islamic Republic’s estimated $100 to $140 billion offshore assets. “U.S. officials said they expect Tehran to gain access to these funds in phases as part of a final deal. Iran could receive somewhere between $30 billion and $50 billion upon signing the agreement, said congressional officials briefed by the administration,” The Journal’s Carol Lee reported.
It seems that this report, and the exchange it prompted in the State Departments briefing room, has finally driven State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf up a wall.
“It’s not true,” Harf said of the dispatch. She added that there had been no change in the administration’s position regarding phased sanctions relief, but she didn’t seem to realize that this assertion failed to contradict The Journal’s reporting.
“They won’t get relief until they take nuclear-related steps,” the State Department spokeswoman added. “And those cannot technically, probably happen on day one.”
Well, that’s reassuring.
The press corps was not convinced that Iran would not receive financial relief in the form of unfrozen assets. Despite Harf’s repeated insistence that Iran would have to take steps that she believed would require “several months” to complete and verify before receiving any financial relief, the assembled reporters noted that the administration could interpret any action on Iran’s part to be consistent with abiding by the terms of a nuclear deal.
Harf appeared to find this contention frustrating. In a later exchange with Reuters reporter Arshad Mohammed (Mediaite has video of the interchange), Harf was asked what leverage the United States possessed to prevent Iran from sponsoring regional terrorist actors like Hezbollah in the wake of sanctions relief. Harf insisted that, while “it’s a challenge” to punish Iran for its sponsorship of terror, the United States had access to other tools to achieve that aim.
“You don’t think it’s a challenge?” Harf asked Mohammed.
“I’m not here to answer your questions,” the Reuters reporter replied. “I’m here to try to get answers to mine.”
Harf was never able to satisfy these reporters’ concerns, and that is for a good reason. Anyone with a neutral eye who has had the misfortune to follow America’s approach to multilateral negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program long ago came to the conclusion that no exogenous circumstance had the power to derail the deal. The administration apparently viewed inking a nuclear accord with Iran as a priority of paramount importance, and Tehran’s post hoc demands for financial relief will be accommodated before this administration scuttles this legacy-sealing treaty.