(CNSNews.com) – White House press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged Tuesday that the U.S. cannot proscribe how Iran chooses to spend the money it will get as sanctions are eased under a proposed nuclear deal.
But he said it was “common sense” to expect that the regime would use it to improve the ailing economy, rather than to step up funding for terrorism or destabilizing activities in the region.
Earnest said what had brought the Iranians to the negotiating table in the first place was a desire to ease the effects of sanctions imposed by the international community over the nuclear standoff.
The pressure Tehran’s leadership was responding to was “not primarily” pressure to get sanctions relief so the regime could spend more on terrorism or destabilizing activity, he said.
Rather, “the pressure they’re reacting to is from the Iranian people who are frustrated at the persistent, and persistently negative economic conditions in their country.”
“I do think that a common-sense look at what kind of pressure they’re reacting to indicates that their priority will be to use those [newly-available] resources to address the persistent economic problems in the country.”
At the same time, Earnest added, “I’m not going to make any predictions about what they are going to do, and I’m certainly not going to be in a position to prescribe what they should do. This is a sovereign country that will make their own decisions.”
Killing Americans and Israelis
Iran has for many years been the chief sponsor of regional terrorist groups including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and anti-U.S. Shi’ite militias in Iraq.
Hamas is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, rocket assaults and other attacks since the interim Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993. Hezbollah, another sworn and deadly enemy of Israel, was until 9/11 “responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist group,” in the words of State Department terrorism reports.
And Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq were blamed for some of the deadliest attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, prompting one U.S. ambassador to say he believed groups backed by Tehran may be responsible for up to a quarter of U.S. casualties there – which would amount to more than 1,000 troops.
Israel and Arab states in the region have also accused the Iranian regime of spreading its malign influence into Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
The White House has strenuously opposed efforts by GOP lawmakers to link Iran’s support for terrorism or other troubling behavior to the effort to reach a nuclear agreement. It even threatened to veto a bill providing for congressional review of a nuclear deal until revisions were made, crucially including the removal of a terrorism-related provision.
The administration argues that while such issues are of serious concern, they should be kept separate from the nuclear talks, where the focus must be on preventing a nuclear-armed Iran that would be far more dangerous than it is now.
But critics argue that Iran’s current behavior gives an indication of what it would do if flush with money after sanctions are lifted.
Two weeks ago a Wall Street Journal report claimed that Iran recently transferred millions of dollars to Hamas, to boost the Palestinian terror group’s missile stocks and rebuild some of the “terror tunnels” in the Gaza Strip which were destroyed during last summer’s Israel-Hamas conflict.
Then, after a series of airstrikes in Syria suspected to have been carried out by Israel and reported to have targeted Hezbollah forces, Israel’s defense minister warned Iran to stop arming Hezbollah.
On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported on plans by Iran to extend a second $1 billion credit line to the beleaguered Assad regime in Syria.
In recent congressional testimony Stephen Rademaker, advisor to the non-profit Bipartisan Policy Center’s foreign policy project, told lawmakers that what the Iranians have done so far with partial financial relief received under a Nov. 2013 interim nuclear agreement “gives an indication of what they’ll do with the much larger sums that are coming in the future.”
Rademaker told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 22 that as part of the proposed final nuclear agreement Iran will be able to bring home funds now frozen in foreign bank accounts as a result of congressionally-mandated sanctions.
“There are no restrictions on what they do with that money,” he said. “That’s just not part of the deal.”