Lifting Sanctions Will Release $100 Billion To Iran. Then What? : Parallels One of the most controversial aspects of the nuclear deal is the unfreezing of more than $100 billion in oil revenues. But concerns have been raised about what Iran might do with this windfall.

Lifting Sanctions Will Release $100 Billion To Iran. Then What?

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$100 Billion - that's how much Iran stands to recover from frozen bank accounts once sanctions are lifted under the new nuclear deal. The Treasury Department says the money comes from Iranian oil sales, and it's been piling up in international banks over the past few years. But as NPR's Jackie Northam reports, there are questions about what Iran can do with the cash.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Oil is one of Iran's most valuable commodities, and sanctions or no sanctions, Iran found buyers over the past few years. Month after month, millions of dollars of oil revenues were added to its ledgers. But Iran hasn't been able to get its hands on that cash. It's frozen in overseas banks.

MARK DUBOWITZ: The money is sitting in China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and Taiwan. Those countries were buyers of Iranian oil.

NORTHAM: Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says Iran hasn't been able to access the roughly $100 billion sittings in those banks because of sanctions imposed by the U.S. in late 2012. Dubowitz, a sanctions specialist who is critical of the deal, says the mostly Asian nations buying oil from Iran agreed to hold the funs in escrow until the sanctions are lifted. In other words, Iran sold them the oil but couldn't move the cash back home. But Iran was allowed to spend the money on buying goods from those countries, says Dubowitz.

DUBOWITZ: And they tried. I mean - and that's why you saw Chinese goods, in particular, flooding Iranian stores and markets. But the problem was that try as they could, Iran just couldn't find enough to buy to spend down those accounts, so the money effectively continued piling up as Iran sold more oil.

NORTHAM: Dubowitz says the system basically cut off Iran's access to the bulk of its foreign reserves. But now with the nuclear deal, Iran will be able to access the $100 billion once it's been verified that it's implemented nuclear-related measures under the agreement. That could take up to year. Dubowitz says there's concern what Iran will do with the money.

DUBOWITZ: We have no ability to constrain Iran if they want to spend all hundred-billion dollars on funding Hezbollah or other terrorist organizations, but when you're getting a hundred-billion-dollar-plus cash windfall, even if you're spending 5 to 10 percent of that only on your support for terrorism, you know, that's an extra $5 to $10 billion.

NORTHAM: During a press conference Wednesday, President Obama acknowledged some of the money could go to Hezbollah or for stirring up trouble around the Middle East. But Obama says it's part of the agreement, and it is their money.


BARACK OBAMA: We're not writing Iran a check. This is Iran's money that we were able to block from them having access to.

NORTHAM: It's very likely the bulk of the $100 billion will not even be sent back to Iran, says Elizabeth Rosenberg, who worked on the Iran sanctions issue at the Treasury Department and is now with the Center for a New American Security.

ELIZABETH ROSENBERG: Something that Iran will be interested to do is get access to that money and move it to places where they'd like to invest or do deals. And once they can move it into Europe, for example, they'll be able to engage in different purchases or investment opportunities and seek new partnerships.

NORTHAM: Rosenberg says Iran's GDP in 2014 was roughly $400 billion. She says while $100 billion sounds like a lot of money, it pales in comparison to the economic relief Iran can expect to get if and when companies begin to trade and invest with it, which could be an incentive for Iran to stick to the agreement. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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