Iran’s frozen funds: how much is really there and how will they be used?

The Conversation - August 11, 2015

Nader Habibi is the Henry J. Leir Professor of the Economics of the Middle East at the Crown Center.

The value and planned release of Iran’s frozen foreign assets have become hot political topics in both Tehran and Western capitals. Yet few observers, it seems, have a clear idea how much is likely to be released as a result of the nuclear deal, and political motivations of one kind or another seem to be behind the varying estimates.

Inside Iran there have been several conflicting statements about the total volume of these funds ever since the historic nuclear deal with the West was announced on July 14. Estimates range anywhere from US$20 billion to $180 billion. The larger figures generally come from conservative critics of the government in parliament. Rouhani government officials, on the other hand, have generally offered smaller estimates. In the West, questions have also been raised about the total value of these funds but also about what Iran might do with them. President Barack Obama initially offered an estimate of approximately $100 billion. More recently, he cut that in half, to between $50 and $60 billion. Opponents have cited similar or larger estimates as they expressed concern that this money represents a large and undeserved gift to Iran that would be used to support its proxy wars in the Middle East. They have argued, in other words, that as a result Iran is likely to become bolder in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria and cause more trouble for the US and its allies.

Iran’s portfolio of foreign assets is diverse and the segment that has been frozen as a result of Western and international economic sanctions is spread among several countries and dates from different times. The freeze date for some goes as far back as the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The conflicting estimates about the value of assets to be released within a year of the deal’s implementation are partly due to the fact that there are different types of assets: some will be very easy to recover, while others will likely remain tied up. Details are murky. ... Read the Full Text