(CNSNews.com) – Former Secretary of State John Kerry disputed Sunday that the budget of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had risen “markedly” as a result of the nuclear deal he negotiated on behalf of the Obama administration, and accused President Trump of lying.
But despite Kerry’s assertions, Iran’s military spending did rise, significantly, after the nuclear deal was implemented. And the regime customarily funds the IRGC more generously than it does Iran’s regular army.
Earlier on Sunday, Trump tweeted, “John Kerry got caught essentially admitting that funds given ridiculously to Iran were used to fund attacks on the USA. Only a complete fool would have given that 150 Billion Dollars Plus to Iran. They then went on a Middle East Rampage!”
Iran’s military spending, and the benefits it accrued as a result of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are back in the spotlight, following a surge of Iranian-linked militia attacks targeting U.S. forces in Iraq, the killing in a U.S. airstrike of IRGC Qods Force chief Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s retaliatory missile attacks, and Iran’s shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane.
In January 2016, just days after the JCPOA’s “implementation day,” Kerry conceded that Iran would use some of the funds it acquires as a result of sanctions relief under the agreement, for terror sponsorship.
“I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC or of other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists to some degree,” he told CNBC at the time. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented.”
On CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, host Margaret Brennan played back an excerpt from that interview.
Kerry – now campaigning on behalf of 2020 presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden – sought to explain “what I was really saying.”
Money from the Iranian budget had always gone to the IRGC, and that was “no surprise,” he said.
But the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had testified in 2017 that “very, very little money [acquired as a result of the nuclear deal] actually went to the IRGC at all.”
“Most of the money went to the economy of Iran, which is precisely what I said, and what we all said,” Kerry added.
“The IRGC has never had a problem getting money,” he continued. “But the fact, is Donald Trump keeps saying they got $150 billion. A lie. He keeps saying that all of that money went to pay for it. It did not. His own Defense Intelligence Agency says most of the money went for the economy of the country. So, you know, we have to stop dealing with questions on Donald Trump’s lies and start dealing with the reality of what is going on.”
“The IRGC budget has not gone up markedly as a result of what happened with the agreement. Period,” Kerry concluded.
‘A significant increase in Iranian defense spending’
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in May 2017, DIA Director Lt. Gen. Vincent did say that while the Iranian regime had used “some money” obtained from sanctions relief for its military, “the preponderance of the money has gone to economic development.”
But in its 2019 report on “Iran Military Power,” the DIA stated that Iran’s military spending had risen as a result of sanctions relief under the nuclear deal.
“Following a significant increase in Iranian defense spending from 2014 to 2018 after the implementation of the JCPOA, Iran’s security forces have experienced a funding decrease in 2019,” the report said.
It attributed the reduced funding in 2019 to “the reimposition of U.S. oil and banking sanctions, the depreciation of the Iranian rial, and chronic economic mismanagement.”
The DIA report also noted that the IRGC gets a significantly larger proportion of Iran’s defense budget than does the conventional army, even though the regular army, known as the “Artesh,” is bigger.
“Although it is smaller in size, the IRGC receives a greater proportion of the defense budget than the Artesh,” the report said. “In 2019, Iran allocated 29 percent of the defense budget to the IRGC, compared with 12 percent for the Artesh.”
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), considered a leading non-governmental source on military expenditure, Iran’s military spending rose noticeably after the JCPOA was implemented.
In 2015, the year the deal was finalized, Iran spent $11.1 billion on the military. In 2016, the year JCPOA implementation began and sanctions were eased, military spending rose to $12.6 billion, and as sanctions relief continued into 2017 it rose again to $13.9 billion.
President Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018, and sanctions were restored in stages. As that occurred Iran’s military spending dropped, to $12.6 billion in 2018.
Apart from direct government funding, the IRGC has financial interests across a range of industries and sectors in Iran, and in that way also benefited naturally from the lifting of sanctions.
“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has its tentacles in nearly every sector of the country’s economy,” U.S. special representative Brian Hook said in a speech last month.
“The IRGC’s economic network thrives on opacity and malfeasance. It distorts the Iranian economy and diverts public wealth and resources to terrorism, missile development, missile proliferation, and regional wars,” he said.
“Estimates suggest that a majority of Iran’s economy is controlled by a small number of entities linked directly to the regime,” Hook said. “The IRGC alone generates tens of billions in revenue through Iran’s shadow economy. How much of this do you think makes its way to the Iranian people?”