So What Was The $400M Payment to Iran All About Anyway?

On January 17, four American hostages were released by Iran. At the same time these Americans were on their planes headed home, another plane was in the air, but this unmarked cargo plane was carrying various currencies of cash—euros, Swiss francs, and other foreign currencies—all shrink-wrapped on wooden pallets. The plane’s destination—Iran.

This story, reported by the Wall Street Journal in early August, has created quite the stir. Republicans like Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are calling it an outrage, while Obama supporters and much of the mainstream media are purporting that the WSJ story is old news.

In January, at the same time those Americans were in the air, Obama announced a historic nuclear weapons deal between the American and Iranian governments aimed at stopping Iranian nuclear proliferation. Part of that deal was the release of the four American citizens being held on questionable charges, and the money part of the deal–$1.7 billion–was brokered as a restitution payment for unfinished business between Iran and the US in 1979. The Shah of Iran agreed to pay $400 million for fighter jets, but was deposed shortly after that deal, in the 1979 Iranian revolution. In short, we never delivered the planes but we kept the cash, and apparently ever since then, the Iranian government has been trying to get their money back. This has been a long-standing claim in the international courts, and over time, the original $400 million has accrued $1.3 billion in interest. While Obama announced this at the time, and it was reported by the  New York Times, many media reports regarded it as “new money” rather than payback.

Back in January, Paul Ryan, among others, suspected that the money effectively served a second purpose as a ransom payment to secure the four Americans’ release.  White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, said Ryan was “wrong” and denied this in a January 19 press conference.

The “new” August angle to the WSJ story was about the covert nature of the cash payment and how the money made its way to Iran via secret cargo plane.  In January, Iranian military commanders bragged about the Americans buckling to their pressure and stated that “taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies,” according to General Mohammad Reza Naghdi’s comments on Iranian state media. Additionally, Congressional staff, as well as both European and US officials briefed afterwards, believed it to be a ransom payment. White House officials say that the cash payment was not unusual because many countries maintain monetary reserves in foreign currencies and gold. The Treasury department and John Kerry’s State department sought the help of both the Swiss and Dutch governments, and the Obama administration subsequently transferred $400 million to their banks, who converted it to other currencies so that we could stack it on wooden pallets and send it to Iran via cargo plane.

Obama again vigorously denied that it was a ransom payment in an August 4 press conference, but this fresh controversy resurrects the conversation about the Iran nuclear deal brokered by Kerry and Obama in the first place, and whether it is the greatest deal ever made, or the worst. It is increasingly difficult to not see it is a very bad deal for the United States, given the current state of global affairs. Regardless of whether Iran was “owed” the money, is it really a good idea to pay back money now to a country that clearly sponsors terrorism? And why couldn’t the money have been wired?  Why did we need to pay it in cash in the most covert and untraceable manner EVER? And are we REALLY supposed to just accept that a prisoner release and a very large cash payment were just coincidentally done on the same day?  When it’s boiled down, a deal was signed, a $400 million down payment on $1.7 billion was made, four Americans were released and, by the way, the US released seven Iranians, too.

White House officials have recently stated that Iran will likely use the money to fund terrorism.  Really? Of course, there’s no way to control what Iran spends the $400 million on, but when Iran funds terrorism across the globe and supports killers like Syria’s Assad, perhaps making a colossally large cash payment from a Swiss bank was a COLOSSAL FLAW IN JUDGEMENT.  Fox New’s Sean Hannity had a segment this week that stated the 9-11 terrorists spent under $500,000 on that attack.  One way to look at it–we’ve just given Iran the potential to fund 800 such attacks.