Top Trump administration officials are working to stop Germany from allowing Iran to fly more than $350 million in cash out of the country and back to Tehran as part of a bid by the Iranian regime to restock its coffers ahead of a major financial crackdown by America, according to conversations with senior U.S. diplomats and officials on Capital Hill.
The Trump administration is already working to stop the German government from allowing this transfer following weekend reports that Iran is poised to fly around 300 million Euros out of the country as part of an ongoing scheme to skirt tough new U.S. economic sanctions, which were put back into effect after President Donald Trump decided to abandon the landmark nuclear deal.
"The mullahs are worried that they will run out of cash," according to a report in Germany's Bild news site. "Iran's justification for their plan says that they need the money 'to pass it on to Iranian individuals who, when traveling abroad, are dependent on euros in cash due to their lack of access to accepted credit cards.'"
The disclosure of the latest scheme to skirt U.S. sanctions has inflamed ongoing tensions between the United States and Germany over its efforts to continue providing Iran with sanctions relief in the face of a crackdown by the Trump administration, which has been locked in diplomatic efforts to convince European partners to pull out of Iran.
Iranian officials have been saying for weeks that they are holding diplomatic talks with some European countries to skirt new U.S. sanctions as Tehran faces a major cash crunch that has sparked waves of popular protests against the hardline ruling regime. Much of the money Iran has spent recently has funded its war efforts in Syria, Yemen, and other hot spots.
Those said to be spearheading the cash transfer are designated by the United States for sponsoring terrorism and providing support to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, which has been waging rogue militant operations across the region, official said.
Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, told the Washington Free Beacon Monday afternoon that he and other top officials in the Trump administration are pressuring the German government to block Iran's multi-million dollar cash transfer
"We are encouraging the German government at the highest levels to intervene to stop this transfer of cash," Grenell revealed to the Free Beacon.
State Department and White House National Security Council officials following the situation said they are concerned by reports that the individual facilitating the transfer, Ali Tarzali, has been designated for supporting the IRGC and other terrorist groups. Tarzali is a senior Iranian official with Iran's Central Bank, which has been cited for sponsoring terrorism and the regime's nuclear activities.
"We are especially disturbed by the reports that the individual facilitating this transfer is Ali Tarzali who was designated by Treasury OFAC on May 15 pursuant to [Executive Order] 13224 for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, the IRGC-Quds Force," a State Department official disclosed to the Free Beacon.
"We are deeply concerned by reports that the Iranian regime is attempting to move hundreds of millions of Euros in cash from a Hamburg-based German bank back to Iran," the official added, echoing similar comments from NSC officials who spoke to the Free Beacon.
Both officials further confirmed comments by Grenell and others about new U.S. efforts to thwart the transaction.
"We are engaging with the German government at the highest levels to understand the facts of the situation; we obviously encourage the Germans' efforts to undertake a comprehensive investigation into the purpose of this transaction," explained the State Department official said, speaking only on background. "We will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure our concerns over Iran's attempt to secure such a large amount of cash are being addressed."
The administration's effort to stop Iran's cash transfer is being met with support from anti-Iran deal lawmakers on the Hill who are engaged in parallel efforts to stop Germany's repeated overtures to Iran.
"The Germans are seemingly trying to alienate everyone in Washington," said one senior congressional official who works on these matters. "They're building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline with Russia, which gives Russia energy control over Europe, over the strong objections of the Trump administration and congressional Democrats."
Germany is "already on the wrong side of congressional Republicans because they're undermining restored nuclear sanctions, but at least there was a debate over the nuclear stuff," said the source, who was not authorized to speak on record about the sensitive diplomatic efforts. "Now it looks like they're sending physical cash to Iran's terrorist machine. Germany is choosing Iran over America."
Richard Goldberg, a former top Senate aide who helped sculpt the Iran sanctions architecture, told the Free Beacon that Germany could subject itself to potential money laundering violations by allowing Iran to fly the cash out of the country.
"The Germans would be crossing a bright red line of international anti-money laundering practices if they allowed this to happen," said Goldberg, currently a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "They’d be leaving [the] Treasury [Department] no choice but to evaluate options ranging from sanctions designations to official warnings regarding the security of Germany’s financial sector. Who would want to do business in a country where terror sponsors and proliferators can fly in and out with suitcases full of money?"
Insiders tracking the situation expect the issue to add another layer of tension to the U.S.-Germany relationship as Congress and the administration examine potential violations of sanctions if the transfer moves forward.
While tension between the United States and Germany on the Iran issue is percolating, President Trump is headed to Brussels Tuesday for a NATO summit where is expected to push allies to spend more on defense.