President Donald Trump lied and made unfounded claims about the Obama administration’s Iran deal in his remarks after Iran launched missiles at two military bases in Iraq where U.S. military personnel are located. The falsehoods that Trump elevated in his January 8 remarks from the White House mirror claims guests have made in the last 24 hours on Trump’s favorite programs on Fox News.
Trump listed several aggressions by Iran that he said took place after he abandoned the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 -- including Iran shooting down a U.S. drone in June and directing an attack on oil refineries in Saudi Arabia in September -- in order to claim that “Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013.”
Trump continued: “They were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. … Then Iran went on a terror spree funded by the money from the deal and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The missles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for by the funds made available by the last administration.”
Everything Trump said about the Obama administration's Iran deal is either a lie or lacks evidence.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action -- an agreement between the U.S., Iran, and other countries that included several measures to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons -- was actually agreed to in 2015, not 2013 as Trump said. As part of the deal, Iran was able to access some of its own money that had been frozen in banks in other countries; so Iran wasn’t “given” the money but rather could access its own accounts. The $150 billion figure is also wrong; the frozen funds that became available for Iran’s use -- most of which PolitiFact noted were largely “in central and commercial banks” outside of the U.S. -- were actually in the $50 billion range.
The “$1.8 billion” payment from the U.S. was to settle a debt for weapons Iran paid for in the 1970s but which were never delivered. The Department of Justice evaluated the proposed payment, which actually totalled $1.7 billion, as within U.S. interests given the likelihood that the U.S. would have to pay Iran even more as a result of litigation in international court if the issue wasn’t resolved between the two countries.
It is not known how Iran spent the unfrozen money, according to PolitiFact. In 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry predicted that some of the money could be transferred to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps -- Iran’s military infrastructure that includes the Quds Force that was led by Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani before he was killed in a U.S. drone strike last week -- but also noted that the IRGC was “already complaining that they are not getting the money.” No evidence has been put forward showing Iran used funds unfrozen after the deal to carry out the missile attack. According to The Washington Post Fact Checker, “Experts say such a claim is far-fetched and that actual intelligence tying Iran deal moneys directly to the missiles is highly unlikely.”
Trump’s claims -- which place the blame for an incredibly dangerous situation in the Middle East on the Obama administration -- directly mirror claims made within the last 24 hours on Trump’s favorite programs on Fox News and Fox Business Network:
Referencing the Iran deal, Lou Dobbs Tonight guest Christian Whiton claimed, “A lot of these offensive capabilities you're seeing were paid for by Obama-Biden foreign policy.”
On Hannity, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) mischaracterized the Iran deal, saying it involved the U.S. giving more than $100 billion to Iran before claiming, “In a very real sense, the missiles that we saw fired on U.S. servicemen and women tonight were paid for by the billions that the Obama administration flooded the ayatollah with.”
Citing the Iran deal, Fox News host Pete Hegseth claimed on Hannity, “Where we are right now is on Barack Obama.”
Former Trump administration official Michael Anton appeared on Fox & Friends and emphasized, without providing evidence, that “as your other guests have pointed out, all that money, unfrozen assets, pallets of cash, what did Iran do with it? They started spending it on terror and conflict and destabilization around the Middle East.”
Trump campaign advisory board member Harlan Hill claimed on Fox Business’ Varney & Co., “The previous administration basically was funding terrorism and Hezbollah by sending pallets full of cash to Iran” via the nuclear deal.