How Much Will Iran Gain from the Nuclear Deal?

If the long-term consequences of the administration’s Iran deal are murky, the short-term results are crystal clear: on Implementation Day, estimated to occur in a matter of months, sanctions against Iran will be lifted and Iranian assets that have been frozen abroad will begin to flow back to Tehran. This is, of course, why the mullahs made the deal. Sanctions imposed by the U.S., the E.U. and the U.N. have crippled Iran’s economy, made the regime unpopular, and limited Iran’s ability to develop ICBMs and nuclear weapons and to support terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, along with rogue regimes like Assad’s Syria.

How much money will flow into Tehran as a result of thawing overseas assets? We and many others have pegged this windfall at $100 billion to $150 billion. (That is just the frozen assets, the overall economic benefits from ending sanctions will be vastly greater.) But in an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, John Kerry offered a much lower number:

Now, let’s discuss whether it’s a dime or a dollar. It’s not 115 billion that they get. It’s certainly not the 150 you hear some people throwing around. It’s not even 100. They will get, in real money that they can actually access, somewhere in the vicinity of 50-plus million – billion dollars. That’s what they get. And the reason for that is there’s a whole lot of money within the other piece. Twenty billion is wrapped up in infrastructure and contracts to China, there are massive – tens of billions of dollars wrapped up in non-performing loans. There are a host of reasons why that money doesn’t come. But we’ve done a Treasury vet on that, very, very penetrating with our intel community.

Kerry’s explanation why the $100-plus billion is really only $50-plus billion is incoherent. What is “the other piece”? What is the significance of being “wrapped up in non-performing loans”? We are talking here about Iranian assets that have been impounded by foreign banks. Why would half or more of these assets now be worthless? There might be an answer, but I can’t discern it from Kerry’s explanation.

Until yesterday, every estimate I have seen of Iran’s frozen assets has been in the $100 billion-plus range. CNBC says $100 billion. David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy says “north of $120 billion.” Reuters says “about $100 billion.” Al Monitor says “the most reasonable figure is $120 billion.”

Kerry claimed yesterday that a “Treasury vet” came up with his $50 billion number. That might be true; I can’t rule it out. But just six months ago, on January 27, Under Secretary of the Treasury David Cohen testified before the Senate Banking Committee that Iran has “approximately $100 billion” in frozen reserves.

It seems that the Obama administration is determined to shade the truth about its Iran deal on every front. It was disingenuous when it described the terms of the interim agreement, and it has once again been unreliable as it tries to sell the final deal to the American people. It has vastly overstated the advantages of the agreement to the United States, and in this instance appears to be underestimating its value to Iran.

It isn’t hard to discern the administration’s motive: after an initial attempt by Kerry to argue that Iran won’t be “allowed” to use its windfall (or “signing bonus,” as it is often called) to support terrorism, the administration now admits that Iran will be able to spend the money however it wants. And Iran’s rulers have made it clear that they intend to spend the windfall–some of it, anyway–to enable its extremist friends and allies to make more mischief. So Kerry now wants us to believe that the signing bonus will be “only” $50 billion-plus.

Which is a great plenty. There is also this: when you make a good deal, you don’t have to misrepresent its terms to sell it. If you have to lie about what the deal is, repeatedly, it is a good bet that you are promoting a lousy deal.