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Rubio Questions U.s. Ambassador to Israel Nominee at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned Jack Lew, nominee to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Last week, Rubio reaffirmed his concerns with Lew’s nomination since the nominee has “misled and lied to Congress in the past.”
Click here for video and read a transcript below.
- Mr. Jacob J. Lew, to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel
RUBIO: Thank you for being here today and for your willingness to serve. But I do need to touch on this…. In July 2015, you said that Iran would not have access to U.S. financial institutions. You’ve also said that there was a special license, which is well documented in the report that’s now on the record, to allow Iran access to U.S. financial institutions. In particular, there was a specific license to a bank in Oman allowing access to U.S. dollars in New York to convert about $5.7 billion worth of Omani Rials into Iranian accounts and into euros….
OFAC actually encouraged U.S. banks to convert these funds. That’s what the report found. The two banks decided not to do so, but nonetheless, the U.S. Treasury actively encouraged two banks to do this. Then the Treasury, through OFAC, put on over 200 roadshows across the world, encouraging U.S. banks to do business with Iran and also downplaying potential future penalties or fines, stating that 95 percent of the time, OFAC sends a warning letter or takes no action. One European regulator who attended one of these roadshows commented that foreign financial institutions felt political pressure to conduct business with Iran and Iranian companies.
The report also found that Treasury Department officials, while you were Secretary of the Treasury, proactively contacted foreign financial institutions to provide information about the JCPOA sanction relief. A compliance officer proactively contacted a foreign financial institution to make sure they understood Iran sanctions relief. This left the foreign financial institution confused, since they had no business with Iran up until that point.
Then Senator Kirk and I sent you a letter, on March 30th, 2016, asking you about all this. We asked you about specific licenses. We asked about U-turn transactions. And we also asked assurances that the United States will not work on behalf of Iran to enable Iranian access to U.S. dollars elsewhere in the international financial system, including assisting them to gain access to dollar payments outside the U.S. We asked you this in a letter on March 30th, 2016, which I ask to be entered into the record. On May 11th, 2016, you said, “We are not planning to reinstate U-turn, and we will continue to vigorously enforce the many sanctions that remain against Iran, including our primary sanctions that generally prohibit Iranian banks from clearing U.S. dollars through the U.S. financial system or holding correspondent account relations in the U.S.”
We wrote you back in May. We said, ‘We are disappointed that you ignored the request in our March 30th letter, providing assurances that the United States will not work on behalf of Iran to enable Iranian access to U.S. dollars elsewhere in the international system,” etc. You responded on June 7th of that year…. This is what [you said]: “To be clear, the Department of Treasury is not working on behalf of Iran to enable Iranian access to U.S. dollars elsewhere in the international financial system. Nor are we assisting Iran in gaining access to dollar payment systems outside the U.S. financial system. The administration has not been and is not planning to grant Iran access to the U.S. financial system.”
Your testimony is that you were not providing them access to the U.S. financial system. You then issued a special license, which is not published, maybe no one was supposed to find out about it, to help them gain access to the U.S. financial system, then asked banks to help convert the funds. They chose not to do so. You then put on 200 roadshows around the world encouraging banks around the world to be a part of this and telling them…: “Don’t worry about sanctions, don’t worry about penalties. 95 percent of the time it’s just a warning letter, no action at all.” And you proactively reached out, unless you dispute the report, to a bank which said, “We don’t do any business with Iran, I don’t know why they’re contacting us.” Then when we wrote to you about it, not once but twice, you denied or misled that any of this was happening.
Do you dispute any of these facts as they’re outlined? I understand your point is that general licenses [are different from] specific licenses. The bottom line is, this license was issued. It did exactly what you said we’re not supposed to do. Then you guys did the roadshow…. This is not a partisan report. This report was put together by the Oversight Committee. It found these facts, including emails from people at the State Department saying, “We are concerned that this exceeds our power under the deal.” How are we supposed to see all of that and then somehow confirm you to this very important post, when you’ve deliberately, in my view, misled me, misled Senator Kirk, misled Congress on what was happening behind the scenes?
MR. LEW: Senator, I don’t think the facts are exactly the way you describe them, and I think it’s important to distinguish between the technical details to facilitate implementation of JCPOA and more broadly welcoming Iran into the U.S. financial community. We didn’t [do the latter], and I took no actions that would do that. I don’t think your description of what us and OFAC officials were doing is the same as my memory of what I had people out there doing.
I had banks and governments coming to me [urging us to] do exactly what you described. We didn’t do that…. We told them what sanctions were lifted, what sanctions remained in place, and we told them to be careful, and Iran got from that the message that we were telling people not to do business with them. That’s why they sanctioned me. That’s why I’ve been sanctioned for human rights violations in Iran, and I’m proud of it. We gave them nothing more than we promised in the JCPOA. We can agree or disagree whether that was a good policy. But there are other members of this committee who’ve been sanctioned by Iran. I’m proud to be among them.
RUBIO: For the record, that’s not my allegation of the facts. I’m reading out of the report by the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, and I do think this needs to be answered.