Updated Sept. 6, 2016 9:38 p.m. ET
The Obama administration followed up a planeload of $400 million in cash sent to Iran in January with two more such shipments in the next 19 days, totaling another $1.3 billion, according to congressional officials briefed by the U.S. State, Treasury and Justice departments.
The cash payments—made in Swiss francs, euros and other currencies—settled a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal dating back to 1979. U.S. officials have acknowledged the payment of the first $400 million coincided with Iran’s release of American prisoners and was used as leverage to ensure they were flown out of Tehran’s Mehrabad on the morning of Jan. 17.
- U.S. Acknowledges Cash Payment to Iran Was ‘Leverage’ in Prisoner Release (Aug. 18)
- U.S. Held Cash Until Iran Freed Prisoners (Aug. 18)
- Obama Defends Cash Payment to Iran(Aug. 4)
- U.S. Sent Cash to Iran as Americans Were Freed (Aug. 3)
- Justice Department Officials Raised Objections on U.S. Cash Payment to Iran (Aug. 3)
- U.S. Payment of $1.7 Billion to Iran Raises Questions of Ransom (Jan. 21)
- Iran Releases Americans in Prisoner Swap (Jan. 16)
The revelations come as Congress returns from a summer recess with Republicans vowing to pursue charges that the White House paid ransom to Tehran, a charge President Barack Obama has repeatedly rejected. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) introduced legislation on Tuesday that would bar such payments to Iran in the future and seeks to reclaim the $1.7 billion for victims of Iranian-backed terrorism.
The Obama administration briefed lawmakers on Tuesday, telling them that two further portions of the $1.3 billion were transferred though Europe on Jan. 22 and Feb. 5. The payment “flowed in the same manner” as the original $400 million that an Iranian cargo plane picked up in Geneva, Switzerland, according to a congressional aide who took part in the briefing.
The $400 million was converted into non-U.S. currencies by the Swiss and Dutch central banks, according to U.S. and European officials.
The Treasury Department confirmed late Tuesday that the subsequent payments were also made in cash.
“The form of those principal and interest payments—made in non-U.S. currency, in cash—was necessitated by the effectiveness of U.S. and international sanctions regimes over the last several years in isolating Iran from the international financial system,” Treasury spokeswoman Dawn Selak said.
Administration officials from Treasury, State and Justice convened the congressional briefing on Tuesday morning in the basement of the Capitol building in Washington. Staff from the House committees on Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Armed Services and Appropriations were among those who also attended, according to congressional aides.
The Obama administration previously had refused to disclose the mechanics of the $1.7 billion settlement, despite repeated calls from U.S. lawmakers. The State Department announced the settlement on Jan. 17 but didn’t brief Congress that the entire amount had been paid in cash.
U.S. lawmakers have voiced concern that Iran’s military units, particularly the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, would use the cash to finance military allies in the Middle East, including the Assad regime in Syria, Houthi militias in Yemen, and the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah.
Sanctions impair Tehran’s ability to receive payments using the international banking system.
The settlement resulted from a legal arbitration under way in the Netherlands since the early 1980s between the U.S. and Iran. At issue was a $400 million payment Tehran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, made to a Pentagon trust fund just months before his government was toppled. The money was earmarked for airplane parts that were never delivered.
Obama administration officials have said they believed the U.S. was set to lose the court proceedings in The Hague and would end up being liable for as much as $10 billion because of accrued interest. Republican lawmakers have argued the initial $400 million shouldn’t be repaid to Iran and instead should have been used to compensate the victims of Iranian-backed terrorism.
The bill introduced by congressional Republicans on Tuesday would block the Treasury Department from making any payments to Iran until Tehran returns the $1.7 billion to the U.S. and pays the American terrorism victims. Three dual U.S.-Iranian citizens are still being held in Iran.
“The U.S. government should not be in the business of negotiating with terrorists and paying ransom money in exchange for the release of American hostages,” Mr. Rubio said.
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© Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Website/AFP/File | A picture released by the news website and public relations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shows US sailors being apprehended by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on January 13, 2016
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