Ben Rhodes: Iran’s new money post deal will go to uplift ‘terrible economy’

The U.S. deputy national security advisor, however, did not rule out that the new money will not be used to help proxies involved in the regional conflicts

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In a further U.S. defense of the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor said Iran’s “additional revenue” from the sanctions relief will be mainly used by Tehran to uplift the Islamic republic’s ailing economy.

“As to what they do with that revenue, we have made clear, our belief, our analysis is that the vast majority of these resources are likely to go to the Iranian economy, which is in a terrible state, and address certain debts of the Iranian government,” Rhodes said in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya News Channel.

The Iran nuclear deal sees Tehran curbing its nuclear program – an allegation it has long rejected – in return for the lifting of the sanctions slapped on by the U.S., U.N. and EU.

The deal also sees the almost immediate lifting of more than $100 billion in sanctions, giving Iran “a new chapter of hope,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

However, Rhodes said the additional money could possibly be used to funnel the activities of its allies in the region.

“It is certainly the case that Iran could decide to apply additional revenue to the activities that are concerning the region,” he said.

He added: “Our discussions with the Gulf partners have focused on, ‘how do we develop additional capabilities to disrupt that activity?’ Because they have been engaged in support for proxies, Hezbollah, and others, even under the threat of sanctions.”

Hezbollah is the Lebanese Shiite group that is also currently backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Iran is also accused of backing the militia Houthi group in Yemen against the internationally-recognized President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi.

Obama on Wednesday also said that “even with this deal, we will continue to have profound differences with Iran” with respect to “its support of terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East.”

Meanwhile, Rhodes said there needed to be a “better capacity” to stand up to Iran’s military threat.

“What we need is a better capacity to interdict weapons shipments, have a maritime capability, to have cyber defenses, to deal with these asymmetric threats from Iran,” he said.

He added that this kind of “conversations with Iran are ongoing and Secretary [of Defense Ashton] Carter will be in Saudi Arabia, in part to follow up on the Camp David summit about how to develop those shared capabilities.”

Rhodes said Washington has already strengthened the Gulf countries’ militaries in light with the “significant” U.S. arms deals mounting to billions. However, he said the confronting of “asymmetric threats” still needs some reinforcement.

“We might not have had the same focus on dealing with asymmetric threats that frankly are not dealt with by planes, but are dealt with by intelligence, special forces capabilities,” he said.

“In the current dynamic in the Middle East, in the region, we believe we need to have our focus moved to those types of capabilities to deal with asymmetric threats and not just the conventional military support they provide which will continue.”

Critics have slammed the deal for not stipulating the release of Americans imprisoned in Iranian jail, and emboldening figures such as Qassem Soleimani, who is an Iranian commander of the elite Quds Force—a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.

Critics describe Soleimani as helping Shiite militias in Iraq kill American soldiers and aided Assad’s regime in combating rebels.

“U.S. service members in Iraq over the years, have been killed, we believe, by material support that was supplied to proxy groups in Iraq,” said Rhodes.

He added: “The fact of the matter is Qassem Soleimani is under significant sanction from the United States, even after this deal, even after the U.N. Security Council resolution associated with this deal expires, he will still be sanctioned.”

Rhodes also said “any individual engaged in activity with Qassem Soleimani is subject to U.S. sanctions that cut them off from the U.S. financial system.”

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