American citizens, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, were captured and held by the government of Iran while the Obama administration negotiated the Iran Nuclear Agreement. On implementation day, four American prisoners were released home to their families. In exchange, seven Iranians who reportedly violated international sanctions were released by the U.S. in a prisoner swap. The public was told by Senior White House officials that the “Iranians wanted a goodwill gesture” as part of the release, and that led to the exchange.
It has now been uncovered that on the night of the “goodwill gesture”, the White House secretly sent $400 million cash to Iran. The money was paid in foreign currency in the middle of the night and flown over by an unmarked plane. The optics are spectacularly damaging because the public was lied to by the executive branch. No mention of this cash transfer was made, and even in the events aftermath the facts hadn’t been released. Why did they wait so long to tell anyone? It looks like bribery. Where there is cash, there is corruption. It looks like a $400 million dollar sweetener, a way to grease the wheels and push forward both the Iran agreement and the prisoner exchange.
“People knew what it was going to look like, and there was concern the Iranians probably did consider it a ransom payment,” one of the sources said.
The White House has denied the events were connected. State Department spokesman John Kirby denied the cash transfer was done to secure the release of the four Americans. Questions remain about the legality of the cash transfer, and the judgement that led up to the transfer. The President was forced to speak on the matter Thursday, claiming “we do not pay ransom“, downplaying the significance of the event. President Obama accused Republicans of playing partisan politics, and dismissed both the financial transactions significance and any possibility the secret transfer of cash to Iran purposefully coincided with the prisoner exchange. No mention of the 400 million that landed in Iran was mentioned in Obama’s original transcript on Iran back in January.
The White House is claiming the money was a debt to be paid going back to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, an event that triggered the imprisonment of over 60 Americans in a hostage crisis that endured for months. According to the White House, we owed them for military equipment meant for the Shah, but in the aftermath of the revolution we chose not to send it (I wonder why).
The relationship between Iran and the United States has been hostile since 1979. However, fanatical terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda are backed by American “allies” in the Gulf Monarchies. Terrorism has increasingly become a problem within Sunni Islam, and indeed fundamentalists have threatened to wipe Shias (Iran is a Shia majority nation) off the map in the Middle East and South Asia. The common enemy, including Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban, created space for a rapprochement between the United States and Iran. Outstanding issues remain, and the relationship in the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal has not warmed on other fronts. Primarily because the U.S. still seeks regime change in Syria.
The story that the United States government gave 400 million in cash to Iran, without any transparency, is likely to set US-Iran relations back even further as the Obama administration faces a backlash from the public. If the United States government was willing to send 400 million in foreign currency to Iran in the dead of night to obtain this deal, it raises the question, what did Iran receive when they captured American sailors off of Iran’s coast? Military personnel were forced to take pictures with their hands above their head, and then on video made to apologize for their “incursion” (the boat malfunctioned, because we haven’t spent the money necessary to modernize our military) into Iranian territory. Did Iran receive a ransom for their release too?
The coverage of this story needs to be raised, not silenced. Questions have to be answered, and not only from the Press offices of the State Department, but in front of Congress. Will investigations open up looking into events as they played out? Investigations that explain the political rational behind the move? The American public deserves to know the truth, and telling them through a spokesman that the hostage negotiations and cash transfer happened parallel but separately, is highly suspicious and patronizing. Officials from the Justice Department have come out and said they were not in favor of the timing of the payment. Justice Department officials raised concerns that the timing of the transfer would make it appear to be a ransom payment for the detainees.
From what has been reported so far, Iran got a great deal, and the American negotiators were taken advantage of. U.S. diplomats knew the President wanted these deals at any cost. We should not be angry at Iran for scoring a good deal. A deal the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has called a victory. We should be angry at our own White House, for depriving the American people of a fair one. Resentment from either side will inevitably lead to a more difficult relationship, when arguably the U.S. and Iran need to cooperate now more than ever, against radical Islamic terror groups targeting the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.