Obama nominee for sanctions czar vows to keep pressure on Iran

Obama nominee for sanctions czar vows to keep pressure on Iran
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The man nominated to snip the purse strings of terrorists and rogue nations promised on Thursday to keep pressure on Iran, despite the recent nuclear deal.

Adam Szubin appeared before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday amid ongoing congressional efforts to block the pact, which have so far failed.

Before a handful of occasionally skeptical lawmakers, he pledged to ensure that the financial pressure on Tehran would remain high, even after billions of dollars are cut loose when the deal goes into effect in coming months.

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“In terms of my priorities for the office going forward, I put Iran at the forefront,” Szubin said.

“Even now, as we prepare to suspend our secondary nuclear sanctions should Iran fulfill its commitments under the deal, we are simultaneously intensifying a battery of sanctions that will not change under the terms of that deal,” he added. “We will be building this pressure in close cooperation with our partners in Europe, Israel and the Gulf.”

In April, President Obama nominated Szubin to be the Treasury Department’s under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, which would place him at the top of the government’s efforts to cut off money flowing to nations such as North Korea and Iran as well as groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Mexican drug cartels.

He has served in the role in an acting capacity since February, when his predecessor left to become the No. 2 leader at the CIA. Before that, he led the Treasury Department’s sanctions office, called the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Earlier this year, he was caught up in a political back-and-forth when the White House blamed Senate Republicans for failing to take any steps to confirm him, despite the rapid rise of ISIS.

A hearing earlier in the summer, however, could have devolved into a debate over the Iranian nuclear deal, which faced bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill. Even as Szubin testified to the Banking Committee on Thursday, Senate Republican leaders were engaged in a bid to tie the lifting of sanctions on Iran to Tehran's support for Israel — which ultimately failed to overcome a procedural hurdle.

On Thursday, Szubin was in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the nuclear accord, even though he was not centrally involved in its negotiation.

“It would be good if you didn’t really talk about that,” Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.) told Szubin, to laughs from the committee hearing room. “I don’t wont to focus, really, with you on that.”

Still, Szubin appears poised to sail through the confirmation process in coming weeks.

“I believe you’re eminently qualified for the job,” Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told Szubin.

Instead of attacking the deal outright, multiple lawmakers pressed Szubin on their plans to renew sanctions against Iran that are set to expire late next year. The Obama administration has opposed renewing the Iran Sanctions Act this year, saying that lawmakers should instead wait until closer to the law’s expiration.

“I am convinced that if there was a reauthorization that was put on the floor it would have robust support,” said Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (D-N.J.), who opposes the Iran deal and has co-authored legislation to renew the sanctions.

Even though the sanctions would be lifted under the terms of the deal, supporters say that they need to be on the books in case Iran cheats under the deal and the sanctions need to "snap back."

“If you want deterrents, it still needs to be in existence to be a deterrent to,” Menendez added. “I just don’t get where the administration is at on this.”

Szubin reiterated the Obama administration’s position, which is that it would be “premature to bring up the renewal until we get to that sunset period” next year.

Supporters of renewal were unconvinced, and insisted on Thursday that they would go ahead with their plan.

The administration’s position, said Corker, “leads me to believe that the administration would oppose that and that’s very disappointing.”

“But I think we’re going to have an opportunity to see whether that’s the case,” he added. Corker has previously said that there are enough supporters of the renewal to be able to overcome a veto from the White House, if it were to come to that.

In addition to the questioning on Iran, Szubin also pledged to keep up the fight against ISIS, which has managed to finance its activities through oil sales, ransoms and other means.

Compared to al Qaeda, “the financing challenges [with ISIS] are night and day,” Szubin said.

“It’s a massive challenge.”

The nominee also mentioned using sanctions as a tool to combat cyber attacks, which appeared to hint at the growing possibility that the Obama administration will impose financial repercussions for China’s alleged hacking of government personnel files.

“We now have the sanctions capability to use that both to prevent and deter bad activity,” Szubin said.