New Rice controversy: business ties to Iran?

Susan Rice can’t be blamed for feeling beleaguered on all sides these days.  First, her bosses send her out to sell what turned out to be a false narrative about the Benghazi attack on five news shows, despite the fact that — as Barack Obama himself said — Rice had nothing to do with what happened in Benghazi.  Republicans now vow to block her ascent to Secretary of State.  At the same time, environmentalists started sounding an alarm over her financial connections to the Keystone XL pipeline and banks involved in it, as well as questions about her work during the Clinton administration on Rwanda and other policies relating to Africa.

This morning, Rice’s woes continue with a Washington Post exposé on Rice’s financial connections to businesses that engaged in trade with Iran — while Rice served as UN Ambassador.  The new revelations have Democrats conceding that this will be a problem in any future confirmation hearing:

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice and her husband own modest stakes in companies that have until recently done business with Iran, prompting new questions from those opposed to her possible nomination as secretary of state. …

One of the biggest of the holdings, between $50,000 and $100,000, according to Rice’s disclosure statement for 2011, is Royal Dutch Shell. The international oil giant stopped buying crude oil from Iran early this year as sanctions were tightened to block oil exports by Iran and to stop financial transactions with its central bank.

A company spokesman said officials dealing with Iran could not be reached, but a person familiar with the company, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a lack of authorization to discuss the topic, said Royal Dutch Shell owes Iran about $1 billion.

Rice and her husband also own between $15,000 and $50,000 of stock in ENI, the Italian international oil company. ENI has said that it is no longer doing business with Iran, but it has a waiver from sanctions to enable it to collect oil as payment for about $1 billion Iran owes the company from earlier business deals. The company had been purchasing crude oil and developing natural gas fields.

On Thursday, Republicans on Capitol Hill began circulating information about Rice’s investments connected to Iran. Asked about the disclosure revelations, one senior GOP official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the topic, said, “This news adds to the list of questions about Susan Rice — not only her public statements, but now there are broader concerns about her past record.” Democratic staffers also said on condition of anonymity for the same reason that the investments would prompt questions of her if she is nominated.

Ironically, this comes out on the same day that WaPo columnist Ruth Marcus complained about a double standard being applied to Rice.  The media didn’t have a problem applying an Iran standard to Mitt Romney, even though his investments had been in a blind trust for more than a decade.  Rice’s haven’t been in a blind trust at all.  A Google search shows more than 3.7 million hits on “Romney Iran investment,” including a number from Daily Kos.

This brings up more questions about conflicts of interest first raised in the Keystone issue.  But it probably serves more as a signal from the media that Rice isn’t going to get an easy ride after her performance on Benghazi — and perhaps Obama should rethink his plans to replace Hillary Clinton instead.

Update: Foreign Policy also reminds readers that Rice’s record in the Clinton administration is going to come under fire:

It’s also unfortunate that the “scandal” has crowded out a healthy discussion of her two-decade record as U.S. diplomat and policymaker prior to Sept. 2012 — and drawn attention away from actions for which she bears far greater responsibility than Benghazi.

Her role in shaping U.S. policy toward Central Africa should feature high on this list. Between 1993 and 2001, she helped form U.S. responses to the Rwandan genocide, events in post-genocide Rwanda, mass violence in Burundi, and two ruinous wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. …

When a United Nations investigation submitted its report on the conflict to the U.N. Security Council in June, providing copious evidence of Rwandan involvement, the ambassadorblocked its publication, insisting the Rwandan government be given a right of reply first (the investigators say they had tried to provide this, but had been rebuffed by officials in Kigali). It was eventually published, but Rice had signalled her sympathies in the matter. Several months later, Rice allegedly removed language from a Security Council resolution explicitly citing Rwanda and Uganda’s well-documented support to the M23, replacing it with the anodyne phrase, “outside support.”

According to some of her colleagues, Rice continues to weigh in on policy toward the region, questioning how much the administration should pressure Rwanda — according to former colleages, she feels that more can be achieved by constructive engagement, not public censure. An official in the government familiar with the internal debates told me, “Her questioning of the proof of Rwanda’s support for the M23 has likely diluted any tough message from other senior U.S. diplomats against Kigali. The Rwandans are paying attention to this, and feel with her support any criticism will be minimal.”

The diplomats and officials interviewed for this article left no doubt that Rice is bright, ambitious, and extremely hard-working. But in her reluctance to criticize the Rwandan government’s involvement in the Congo, she has also demonstrated critical lapses in judgment. Senators would do better to scrutinize this history, rathering than focusing on the Benghazi attacks.

Why not both?