“Iran will have to agree to meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions before we can seriously consider taking steps to ease sanctions,” White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said. Meehan and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to comment on specific types of sanctions relief, calling such questions “premature and speculative.”
Officials who confirmed the cash reserves approach weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
Congress is already weighing in. Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, a key proponent of Iran sanctions, plans to introduce an amendment to a new package of international restrictions on commerce with Iran that would seek to provide the administration with more sticks and carrots for talks through Iran’s cash reserves, a Senate aide said.
Kirk’s plan would freeze any remaining assets overseas that Iran can still access by threatening to cut off from the U.S. market any foreign banks that continue doing business with Iran. At the same time, it would also give Obama the flexibility to allow Iran to access some of that $50 billion to $75 billion it can’t use today, said the Senate aide, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the pending legislation and demanded anonymity.
There’s a catch, however. Kirk’s legislation would allow Iran to get the money only if it agrees to end all uranium enrichment and reprocessing, activities that even Rouhani’s new reformist government has vowed to continue. Iran insists its program is solely for peaceful energy production and appears unlikely to accept such an offer.
Thus, the proposed legislation may actually constrict the administration’s negotiating ability rather than give it more leeway.
The strategy to leverage Iran’s cash reserves is the brainchild of Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Dubowitz, who often advises Congress and the administration on sanctions policy, said the strategy offers the administration an easy way to raise or ease pressure on Iran.