But Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty indicates that one thing certainly was clear: the message that the Republican-dominated Congress hoped Kerry would convey to his Iranian counterpart when they met on Friday. The legislative and executive branches of the US government have been strongly at odds over Iran’s sanctions relief and the possibility of the Islamic Republic being granted access to the American financial system. The controversy is in many ways a direct extension of congressional, and especially Republican opposition to the July 14 nuclear deal, which some Western commentators viewed as giving away leverage over Iran in exchange for very few assurances regarding its future behavior.
RFE/RL quoted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan as saying, “The administration should definitively rule out any potential workaround that provides Iran — directly or indirectly — with access to the dollar or the U.S. financial system. We hope that’s the message that Secretary Kerry delivers to Foreign Minister Zarif.”
But given the persistence of discord between Congress and the White House, it is clear that there was no real confidence that this would be Kerry’s message on Friday. This is in spite of the fact that the Obama administration and the Treasury Department have repeatedly assured their Republican detractors that Iran would not gain access to the US financial system and would remain under existing sanctions that are unrelated to the Iranian nuclear program.
On Friday, Stars and Stripes plainly declared that Republicans have proven themselves to be unwilling to take the White House at its word on such matters. Contrary to the Obama administration’s assurances, they have closely watched the administration’s actions and generally come to the conclusion that it may intend to implement policies that go well beyond the original scope of the Iran nuclear agreement.
In the wake of the meeting between Kerry and Zarif on Tuesday, Speaker Ryan implied that Kerry had intentionally left the door open to giving Iran “an unprecedented economic windfall,” and that he might use the follow-up meeting on Friday to go further along this path, perhaps even guaranteeing the sort of access that Republicans are so eager to prevent.
Harboring similar suspicions about the administration’s intentions, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is striving to obstruct President Obama’s appointment of Adam Szubin as Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crime, in order to put additional pressure on the administration over the issue of the possible “dollarization” of international transactions involving Iran.
On Friday, Republican fears were compounded once again by the news that the US had made arrangements to buy 32 tons of nuclear material from Iran, at a price of about 8.6 million dollars. “This heavy water will fulfill a substantial portion of U.S. domestic demand this year for industry and domestic research applications,” said State Department spokesperson John Kirby.
But as Fox News reports, the purchase was also reportedly motivated by the fact that Iran cannot off-load its nuclear material at a fast enough rate to keep up with its obligations under the nuclear deal, suggesting that other major economic players are still reluctant on this point, just as they are reluctant to reenter the Iranian market at a time when it is still isolated from the US financial system.
This in turn implies that the Obama administration is committed to doing whatever it can to preserve the nuclear deal, even if this means personally engaging in transactions that help to give Iranian officials the impression that the deal is of value to them.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has effectively taken the lead in suggesting that US policies have prevented the deal from having its anticipated effects on the Iranian economy. But Rouhani’s own affiliates have not disputed these talking points, and have instead focused much of their attention on convincing the US to change its policies in ways that will improve Khamenei’s assessment. Foreign Minister Zarif’s meetings with Kerry are indicative of this.
But Zarif and his colleagues have also made it part of their mission to defend some of the policies that help to make the US Congress so wary of doing business with Iran or relinquishing economic leverage over it. Prominent among these policies is the ongoing expansion of the Iranian ballistic missile program – something that has been lauded by Khamenei and Rouhani alike.
Zarif used the phrase in reference to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, during which Iraqi missiles did extensive and recurrent damage to Iranian cities. But Zarif did not directly address current or recent conflicts in the region, in a number of which Iran has been a foreign interloper, if not the aggressor. Given Iran’s interventions in Syria and Yemen, its military buildup is widely regarded as a gesture of intimidation against nations and parties that oppose these activities.
As Breaking Israel News reminded its readers, this interpretation of matters is a very easy one to make in light of the fact that nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that were tested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps last month had the words “Israel must be wiped out” written on them in Hebrew.
Zarif’s Washington Post editorial supports a claim that was made by IranWire on Friday, when it observed that there is not much difference on the missile issue between Iranian hardliners and the Rouhani administration, which is regarded by some Western officials as relatively moderate.
This moderate image has presumably influenced the Obama administration’s dealings with Zarif and others, and has encouraged them to offer concessions to Iran on the belief that ongoing engagement would lead to a more general moderating trend. President Obama said exactly this in a speech soon after the conclusion of the nuclear deal last July.
But ballistic missile tests and other hardline provocations have arguably undermined this sentiment, which was disputed from the outset by elements of the US Congress and by other staunch opponents of the Iranian regime, such as the exiled Iranian resistance groups affiliated with the National Council of Resistance of Iran.