US ambassador urges Germany to block Iran cash withdrawal

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The US ambassador to Germany urged Berlin on Tuesday to stop Iran withdrawing large sums of cash from bank accounts in Germany to offset the effect of new US sanctions imposed after Washington withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal.

Richard Grenell, a longtime critic of the accord, told the mass-circulation daily Bild that the US government was extremely concerned about Tehran’s plans to transfer hundreds of millions of euros in cash to Iran.

“We encourage the highest levels of the German government to intervene and stop the plan,” Grenell said.

Iran curbed its nuclear activity under the deal and won relief from international sanctions. The other signatories including US allies Germany, France and Britain have reaffirmed the deal, seeing it as crucial to preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon. Trump denounced it as badly flawed in Iran’s favor.

Grenell’s comment drew a rebuke from Johann Wadephul, deputy leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in parliament, who said the transaction should not be blocked on political grounds if it passed legal muster.

“The statement of the US ambassador is once again unsettling and difficult to reconcile with his diplomatic role,” Wadephul told Reuters.

A German finance ministry spokeswoman said German authorities were examining the Iranian request according to clearly prescribed guidelines aimed at averting risks linked to money laundering or possible financing of extremist groups.

“Naturally it’s clear that part of the German government review will also look at whether there could be a violation of a sanctions regime,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Bild first reported on Monday that German authorities were considering a request by Iran to withdraw 300 million euros ($350 million) from bank accounts held in Germany and to transfer the cash to Tehran.

Grenell has sparked controversy by adopting a far more outspoken role than his predecessor since arriving in Berlin in May, including a posting on Twitter in which he said German firms should wind down their business in Iran after Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the nuclear accord.

Iranian parliamentarians said 5,000 senior members of the regime and those affiliated with them have deposited sums reaching $148 billion in hard currency into their accounts in foreign banks, a move interpreted by observers as them anticipating an imminent collapse of the regime by the rise of popular protests.

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