U.S. President Barack Obama answers a question as he and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hold a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S. August 2, 2016. (REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)
Under the headline “U.S. Sent Cash to Iran as Americans Were Freed,” the Wall Street Journal reported on August 3rd the secret transport to Iran of $400 million in Euros and other non-U.S. dollar currencies at around the same time that five American hostages held captive were released by the Iranian regime. The hostages included Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and Pastor Saeed Abedini. The Obama administration insists that it was all just a coincidence. It was only paying off the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement of Iranian claims before the Iran-US Claims Tribunal in The Hague, arising from a failed arms deal that had preceded the overthrow of the Shah. There was no quid pro quo or ransom paid to get our hostages back, claims the administration. Everyone else with an ounce of common sense knows the truth – the Obama administration violated the long-held policy of the United States not to pay ransom or make other concessions to hostage takers in order to procure the release of the prisoners detained unlawfully by Iran.
The Obama administration is insulting our intelligence in claiming, as State Department spokesman John Kirby has done, that “the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim…were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home.” Even Obama himself had linked the settlement to both the completion of the nuclear deal with Iran and the release of the American captives. “With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” Obama said in his victory lap statement at the White House on January 17th. He also announced that, as “a reciprocal humanitarian gesture,” he granted clemency to six Iranian–Americans and one Iranian serving sentences or awaiting trial in the United States. What Obama left out of his self-serving statement last January was that his administration was also sending cash to Iran around that same time, over and above any sanctions relief or release of frozen assets as required by the terms of the nuclear deal itself.
Consider the shady circumstances of the Obama administration’s payment to the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. The exchange of cash to the Iranian regime and release of the hostages were very close in time to one another. The cash, stacked in wooden pallets, was sent secretly on an unmarked cargo plane from banks in the Netherlands and Switzerland. And even U.S. negotiators have admitted, according to the Wall Street Journal article, that “Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible.” That’s called a ransom, which is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a consideration paid or demanded for the release of someone or something from captivity.”
If the $400 million payment were actually a straight-forward first installment on the settlement of a debt claim that Iran had filed with an international tribunal in The Hague, why not make the settlement agreement, if it exists at all, public? Why didn’t the parties avail themselves of the option to request the tribunal under Article 26 of the Tribunal Rules of Procedure, as an interim protection measure, to facilitate a deposit of the settlement funds with a third party such as Switzerland? Such third party in turn could prepare for a phased hand-over of the settlement funds to Iran under the supervision of the tribunal.
The answer is that the Obama administration was doing all that it could to hide its ransom payment from the public. It feared the political backlash from violation of U.S. government policy not to pay a ransom because such action would only encourage more hostage-taking. And that is precisely what has happened in Iran. Three dual American-Iranian citizens have since been imprisoned by Iranian authorities, without any known charges being filed against them. Iran is taking more U.S. citizens, and holding them hostage, in order to trade for “something tangible.” This alone should result in the immediate cancellation of the so-called “settlement” agreement with Iran and the withholding for good of the $1.3 billion balance that Iran is claiming, assuming that the Obama administration has not already sent this money covertly to the thuggish regime.
President Obama set his own precedent for surrendering to the demands of hostage takers two years ago when he agreed to a totally one-sided prisoner swap with the Taliban terrorists. In return for the release of alleged deserter U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, Obama gave back five high-level terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay to the Taliban. During a Time Magazine interview with an unnamed Taliban commander close to the negotiations for the swap, the commander said, “It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people. It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”
What’s more, as reported by Fred Fleitz in his National Review article, Obama has experience paying off Iran’s mullahs to secure the release of hostages. Fleitz noted that the Obama administration “paid $500,000 each to free American hikers captured by Iran in 2011 through the government of Oman.”
Iran has repeatedly violated international law in seizing Americans and citizens of other countries, and holding them hostage to gain negotiating leverage. Under long-standing U.S. government policy, the outlaw Iranian regime should be punished for illegally seizing and imprisoning American citizens under unduly harsh conditions, rather than being unjustly enriched as President Obama has done.