February 22, 2018

Kerry Acknowledges Iran May Misuse Funds, Draws Fire From Congress

DAVOS, Switzerland—U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said some of the funds freed up by the implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal could end up in the hands of the hard-liner Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they could be used for terrorism, but he insisted the money isn’t driving Iranian provocation in the region.

Republicans in Washington were quick to condemn Mr. Kerry’s comments, citing his acknowledgment in a television interview and a later meeting with reporters that the money could support terrorist activities.

The White House also has said the extra money Iran will receive under the international nuclear agreement, which took full effect last weekend, potentially could be used by Iran to support militants in the region. But the potential for new sources of support for extremists has sparked more alarm now that the deal is in effect, triggering the flow of billions in frozen Iranian assets as well as sanctions relief. No Senate Republican backed the Iran deal when the chamber voted on it in September.

Mr. Kerry said on CNBC that the U.S. so far isn’t seeing “the early delivery of funds going to that kind of endeavor,” but added: “I’m sure at one point we will.”

“It is certain that they will use this money to support terrorism,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), one of the loudest GOP critics of the administration’s foreign policy, told reporters Thursday. “You might as well have written the check to [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad yourself. You might as well have funded Hezbollah yourself,” he said in comments aimed at Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Kerry later told reporters traveling with him that the U.S. believes Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as well as the country’s supreme leader won’t be able to deliver on promises to improve Iran’s economy if they funnel money toward militancy. Additionally, the U.S. has sanctions and other mechanisms in place to hold Iran responsible if it does, Mr. Kerry said.

“The IRGC is already complaining that they’re not getting the money, by the way,” Mr. Kerry said. “I can’t tell people that, ‘No, some amount might not.’ But we don’t believe that that is what has made the difference in the activities of Iran in the region.”

Mr. Kerry leaves Davos, Switzerland, for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, late Friday evening and will meet Saturday with foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as separately with Saudi officials. Part of the reason for his trip, he said, is to discuss with Arab allies the effects of sanctions relief.

“We are plussing up their capacity where there are holes or where they think there are things that are needed,” Mr. Kerry said. “We are confident that this will not result in an increase somehow in the threat to any partner or any friend in the region.”

Mr. Kerry’s trip has focused largely on pushing ahead Syria talks that have been complicated by disagreements over who will represent the opposition in meetings that are supposed to begin next week with Mr. Assad’s government.

The U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will likely issue invitations to the talks by Sunday, and the meetings should begin at some point next week, Mr. Kerry said.

In a meeting Wednesday with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that aides described as informal, Mr. Kerry said he raised the fate of three American contractors who disappeared and were believed kidnapped in Baghdad.

“I asked him for whatever help, if Iran knew any way to provide help, or there were some way they could have an impact on getting the right kind of outcome, I asked him to give us that input,” Mr. Kerry said. “He said he would take that under advisement and try to do what he can.”

Mr. Kerry said Mr. Zarif told him he had no immediate knowledge about the incident.

Before a meeting with Mr. Kerry here, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he didn’t believe there was an Iranian link to the kidnappings.

“I doubt it very much. We don’t know if they are kidnapped yet,” he said.


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