White House Emerges as Iran’s Top ‘Lobbying Shop’

Obama administration’s campaign to boost business in Iran under congressional scrutiny

John Kerry
John Kerry / AP
June 29, 2016

Obama administration officials are orchestrating an international campaign to encourage businesses and governments to reengage in the Iranian marketplace, prompting accusations from leading members of Congress that the White House is behaving as the Islamic Republic’s top global "lobbying shop," according to conversations with lawmakers and multiple sources tracking the issue.

The administration’s efforts on Iran’s behalf—which go far beyond the requirements under last summer’s nuclear agreement—are said to have pressured the world’s foremost financial task force to reduce counter-terror efforts impacting Iran, despite Tehran’s role as the globe’s top exporter of terrorism.

The Financial Action Task Force’s decision coincides with multiple efforts, both public and private, by top U.S. officials to promote increased international trade with Iran. The pro-Iran effort, which is being helmed by the State Department, has caused internal rifts in the Obama administration among top officials who object to the effort.

Top lawmakers are now going on the offensive to combat these efforts following a decision late last week by the FATF, an intergovernmental body that counters money laundering, to roll back measures blocking business with Iran.

The FATF’s decision is being viewed as a coup for Iran and has been celebrated by administration supporters who helped lobby for the nuclear accord. Congressional opponents of the nuclear deal told the Washington Free Beacon that the administration is wrongly using the deal as an excuse to lobby on Iran’s behalf.

"The fact remains that Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Until that changes, businesses are right to be wary about reentering the Iranian marketplace," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) told the Free Beacon. "Where does President Obama's nuclear agreement state that Secretary Kerry must serve as Iran's chief salesman?"

Secretary of State John Kerry has been open in recent weeks about his efforts to help Iran’s economy outside of the nuclear accord.

"I have personally gone beyond the absolute requirements of the lifting of sanctions to personally engage with banks and businesses and others who have a natural reluctance after several years of sanctions to move without fully understanding what they are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do," Kerry said earlier this month.

The FATF’s decision to suspend countermeasures aimed at insulating businesses from terror financing risks in Iran is being viewed by many as part of Kerry’s campaign for Iran.

"The goal of any responsible Iran policy should be preventing the Islamic Republic from getting a nuclear weapon, not providing the mullahs with an economic stimulus package," Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) told the Free Beacon. "‎The Obama administration unfortunately has made getting a deal—any deal—their only objective and so have lost sight of this fundamental reality."


The FATF has long designated Iran as a primary center for terrorism financing and has encouraged governments to enact countermeasures to penalize this behavior. The timing of its decision to roll back this designation coincides with efforts by the Obama administration to help U.S. businesses such as airplane giant Boeing to strike multi-million dollar business deals with Tehran.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), a member of the House's intelligence committee, told the Free Beacon on Tuesday that after pressuring international nuclear inspectors to back down from monitoring Iran's nuclear program, the Obama administration is taking steps to downplay Iran's rogue behavior.

"The Obama administration’s playbook on Iran is simple—cave to the Ayatollah’s demands, pressure international bodies to alter their decisions, and then point to an unsigned, unratified document—the deal itself—in order to try to avoid culpability," Pompeo told the Free Beacon. "It is what happened with the IAEA and appears to be happening with the FATF.  As a result, we are losing visibility into important Iranian nuclear issues—and the same is happening on the financial front."

Major companies are not being swayed by the administration's pro-Iran campaign, Pompeo added.

"Businesses are no stranger to this pattern and know little has changed in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo said. "That is why they are staying away."

Sources told the Free Beacon that the Obama administration is moving forward with efforts to provide these businesses with legal cover from sanctions and other measures that could impact their business relations with Iran.

"The Obama administration is now regarded as Iran's lobbying shop both in Europe, where companies are eager for Washington's cover to go back into Iran, and on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers blame Treasury officials for lying to them in confidential briefings about sanctions relief," said one foreign policy adviser who works intimately with Congress on the matter.

"Meanwhile inside the White House the deals' supporters are so far gone they say they support dropping anti-terror measures against Iran even while they admit that Iran is the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism," the source said.

Terrorism experts are warning that the administration’s efforts will open U.S. businesses to involvement in Iran’s export of terror and corruption.

"The FATF decision to suspend mandatory counter-measures against Iran for one year could be a slippery slope that lets the foremost state sponsor of terrorism off the hook without changing its dangerous financial conduct," said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "This financial legitimization of the Iranian regime, which maintains a long rap sheet of ongoing financial crimes, increasingly appears to be the goal of President Obama and Secretary Kerry before they leave office. "

The Obama administration says it backs the FATF’s decision and encourages Iran to continue reforming its financial system.

"We support the FATF’s decision, under which Iran will remain on the latest FATF Public Statement—which is commonly known as the ‘FATF black list’—and countermeasures will be suspended for 12 months," a Treasury Department spokesman told the Free Beacon.

"As the FATF said, we welcome Iran’s high-level political commitment to an action plan to address the deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism regime," the official said. "This commitment to an action plan was key to FATF’s decision to temporarily suspend countermeasures on Iran."

The FATF’s decision, the official emphasized, will have "no effect on the U.S. government’s Iran-related sanctions."

One senior congressional aide apprised of the matter told the Free Beacon that the administration is becoming increasingly complicit in Iran’s global terror campaign.

"The administration wants to have it both ways," the source said. "Throughout the negotiations, they claimed the nuclear deal would help counter Iran’s widespread support from terrorism. Now, Secretary Kerry is personally lobbying foreign countries to do business with Tehran, which will further fund the regime’s terror proxies."

"President Obama is resting his foreign policy legacy—and the safety and security of the United States and our allies—squarely in the hands of the mullahs," the source added. "This is a dangerous gamble."