U.S. congressional leaders warned Secretary of State John Kerry against going too far in his effort to help Iran realize the economic benefits of its nuclear accord with world powers.
The warning came on the eve of an April 22 meeting between Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New York that Kerry had said was aimed at addressing Iranian concerns that remaining U.S. sanctions are blocking economic relief for Tehran.
"The administration should definitively rule out any potential workaround that provides Iran -- directly or indirectly -- with access to the dollar or the U.S. financial system," House Speaker Paul Ryan said on April 21. "We hope that's the message Secretary Kerry delivers to Foreign Minister Zarif."
Other House Republican leaders echoed Ryan's concerns.
"We cannot grant Iran access to the dollar in any form," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Twitter.
Their comments came after House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce earlier this week introduced a bill to prohibit the administration from allowing the dollar to be used in trade deals with Iran.
Despite their warnings, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said on April 21 that sanctions relief remains on the agenda at the meeting.
"I fully expect that they will continue to talk about the sanctions-relief process and the degree to which banks, foreign and domestic, as well as institutions, foreign and domestic, are evaluating their options" to do business with Iran under the nuclear accord, Kirby said.
Iran, as well as European and Asian banks, would like to see an easing of remaining U.S. restrictions on Iran's use of the dollar and financial system. Short of that, they would like the United States to clarify what businesses and banks can and cannot do under U.S. law so they feel secure in proceeding with deals that are permitted under the nuclear agreement.
While Iran was granted relief from global economic sanctions under the July nuclear deal in exchange for curbing its nuclear activities, it remains under some U.S. financial restrictions because of its ballistic missile testing activity, support for terrorism, and alleged human rights abuses.
The Obama administration insists it has met its obligations under the nuclear deal but acknowledges that some sanctions relief has been slow to come for Tehran because banks and businesses have been overly cautious about running afoul of remaining U.S. sanctions.
Zarif complained this week that the administration has not been "proactive" in explaining what businesses can and cannot do under the nuclear deal, and as a result Iran remains locked out of the international financial system.
But Kirby disputed that, saying Washington has undertaken a major business education effort to try to ease the way for Iran to experience the economic relief it is entitled to under the nuclear deal.
"We would argue that we have been active in trying to explain the components of the [nuclear deal]," Kirby said. "We believe we are working hard to try to explain what the obligations are, what the responsibilities are, and what the opportunities are for foreign institutions and banks."
"What we absolutely are not trying to do is become an obstacle in any way of foreign banks and institutions working with Iran through the sanctions relief process and doing legitimate business with Iran," he said.
While Kerry and Zarif are meeting in New York, the group in charge of implementing the broader nuclear deal will be meeting in Vienna on April 22.
The State Department's third-ranking diplomat, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon, will lead the U.S. delegation to that meeting, which will also be attended by officials from the other parties to the accord: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the European Union, and Iran.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP