Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Iran deserves access to U.S. dollars out of fairness because Tehran has met its core obligations under the nuclear agreement despite strong bipartisan opposition to such a move in Congress.
Kerry was asked about the recent effort by the Obama administration to give Iran limited access to the dollar currency in an interview on Morning Joe.
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The show’s panel pointed out to Kerry that Iran has increased its destabilizing activities and anti-Western rhetoric since the Iran nuclear deal was put into effect in January and questioned whether the U.S. should expand its sanctions relief given the Islamic Republic’s aggressive behavior.
"One of the questions is why then is the U.S. Treasury, or why is the [Obama] administration sanctioning the idea of helping Iran get access to dollars or to get more investment?" MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Kerry.
"We are working very hard to do what is fair," Kerry said.
"But have they proved that they deserve that?" Mitchell asked.
"They have in terms of the nuclear agreement, absolutely," Kerry said. "Iran deserves the benefits of the agreement they struck. And President Obama has said it, I’ve said it, [Treasury] Secretary [Jack] Lew has said it."
Kerry also said the administration has worked "to make sure" banks that are now allowed to do legitimate, transactional business with Iran after the nuclear agreement are doing so.
"It is fair for Iran to get what it deserves because it kept its part of the bargain to date with respect to the nuclear agreement," Kerry said.
"But Mr. Secretary, you said earlier though that, and the president said this also, by not living up to the spirit of the agreement, they’re sending the wrong signals to the world community and sending the wrong signals to businesses," co-host Joe Scarborough said.
President Obama acknowledged Friday that Iran has not followed the "spirit" of the nuclear deal since its implementation, raising concerns that Tehran may violate the terms of the accord in the coming years and become more dangerous as a result of its stronger position through sanctions relief and now legitimized large-scale nuclear program.
The U.S. and allied countries said last week that Iran’s recent tests of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads were "in defiance of" the United Nations Security Council resolution that enshrined the nuclear deal into international law, which came three months after Iran violated another U.N. ban on missile launches.
"Should they not first take care of the problem that both you and the president have diagnosed and then you all start helping them financially?" Scarborough asked.
"We’re under an obligation … if we said we would lift the sanction, we’re under an obligation to lift the sanction," Kerry said.
The secretary added that the U.S. and other world powers are in agreement that "everybody should be encouraging Iran not to continue its missile activities, not to continue to ship arms, because that will upset and rile the marketplace."
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned last month that "those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors."
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Treasury Department is moving to give Iran limited access to U.S. dollars as part of the post-nuclear deal sanctions relief through offshore dollar clearing houses so American banks would not be involved.
Iran has complained that it has not yet received the full economic benefits it was promised under the nuclear accord struck last year between Iran and six world powers.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the U.S. needs to comply with the "letter and spirit" of the law, although he refused to tell Congress in March whether Iran will be given access to the dollar.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed strong opposition to such a move.
Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) penned a letter to Lew last week asking for assurances that Iran will not be given access to the dollar, and Rep. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.) wrote a separate letter to President Obama, which read in part: "I believe this will set bad precedent, and it will not be the last time the Iranians and/or their business partners receive additional relief not contemplated" under the nuclear agreement.
The administration does not need congressional approval to go through with its plan.