The Obama Administration has been highly criticized for taking part in the JCPOA – the controversial deal that lifted sanctions on Iran, in effect giving it the power to evolve into a serious nuclear threat.
This January, the US handed another $400 million to Iran. We discussed the secret payment in a previous article, and theorized that it was probably a ransom. The payment was allegedly linked to a longstanding argument regarding a failed arms deal in 1979 – a lie that may have held up if hostages weren’t involved.
“US officials wouldn’t let Iranians take control of the money until a Swiss Air Force plane carrying three freed Americans departed from Tehran on January 17th. Once that happened, an Iranian cargo plane was allowed to bring the cash home from Geneva airport that day,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
President Obama insists the payment was not a ransom, that we owed Iran money, and that the cash transfer and prisoner release occurred through separate diplomatic channels.
“The handling of the payment and its connection to the Americans’ release have raised questions among lawmakers and administration critics,” reports the Journal. Officials have refused to tell us just how the transfer took place, but the use of an Iranian cargo plane to move the cash is another clue in solving the puzzle.
“Our top priority was getting the Americans home,” said one US official. According to those briefed on the mysterious exchange, the Iranians were not allowed to touch the money until the prisoners were in the air. The Iranian press, meanwhile, victoriously reports the deal as a ransom.
The $400 million payment was only a fraction of the $1.7 billion settlement we reportedly owe Iran to make up for a failed deal during the reign of Iranian monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Donald Trump has predictably cashed in (no pun intended) on the scandal, even going so far as to say that he viewed “secret footage” of the delivery to Iran. He has also pointed out that the ransom payment may be used to fund terrorism.
Obama argues that the payment had to be in cash because the United States has no banking relationship with Iran; he specifically stated, “We don’t pay ransom for hostages.”
When asked why the prisoner release and the cash transfer took place at the same time, President Obama explained that is was pure convenience. “Our ability to clear accounts on a number of issues at the same time converged.”
Republican lawmakers, convinced the payment was indeed a ransom, are planning to hold hearings on the suspicious transfer in September. Rep. Sean Duff (R-WI) has sent letters to the Treasury Department, Justice Department, and Federal Reserve requesting all records related to the $400 million exchange.
Saeed Abedini, one of the released prisoners, confirms that he was ordered to wait at the Mehrabad airport; that his plane’s departure was contingent upon the movements of another airplane. Abedini has been asked to testify before the House Foreign Relations Committee.
State Department officials have denied Abedini’s comments, insisting the delayed departure had nothing to do with the cash transfer.
Iran Air was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in 2011 after it was caught ferrying weapons for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Iran’s elite military unit). Those sanctions were conveniently lifted the day before the cash transfer took place (a move that was, of course, part of the JCPOA).
The Treasury has stated that “IRGC officers occasionally take control over Iran Air flights carrying special IRGC-related cargo,” and lawmakers are concerned that this group may have gained control of the $400 million. US officials have stated that they are unsure what Iran has done with the cash.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration confirms that it has paid out the remaining $1.3 billion owed to Iran as part of the aforementioned settlement. Officials, however, have refused to tell us exactly how or when this payment was made.
Lawmakers are trying to discern whether or not the other payment was made in cash. If it wasn’t, they will likely be able to prove the $400 million was indeed a ransom.
Editor’s note: The definition of ransom is “a sum of money or other payment demanded or paid for the release of a prisoner.”