Right-wing media figures are hyping a new article in The Wall Street Journal which reports the United States “secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran” to claim that the administration concealed this deal from the public. But President Obama explained in a January 17 press conference that, as a result of the newly agreed-upon Iran nuclear deal, Iran and the U.S. “are now settling a longstanding Iranian government claim against the United States government,” and Secretary of State John Kerry issued a press release the same day which explained “Iran will receive … $400 million,” “as well as a roughly $1.3 billion compromise on the interest.”
The Wall Street Journal Reports U.S. “Secretly Organized” Cash Transfer To Iran
WSJ: US “Secretly Organized An Airlift Of $400 Million Worth Of Cash To Iran.” In an August 3 article, The Wall Street Journal reported that the United States “secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran.” The Journal noted that “[t]he money represented the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration reached with Iran to resolve a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal signed just before the 1979 fall of Iran’s last monarch,” adding that “senior U.S. officials denied any link between the payment” and a prisoner exchange that resulted in four Americans being freed. From the August 3 article:
The Obama administration secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran, according to U.S. and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the operation afterward.
Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane, according to these officials. The U.S. procured the money from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland, they said.
The money represented the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration reached with Iran to resolve a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal signed just before the 1979 fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Senior U.S. officials denied any link between the payment and the prisoner exchange. They say the way the various strands came together simultaneously was coincidental, not the result of any quid pro quo.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have said they were certain Washington was going to lose the arbitration in The Hague, where Iran was seeking more than $10 billion, and described the settlement as a bargain for taxpayers.
The $400 million was paid in foreign currency because any transaction with Iran in U.S. dollars is illegal under U.S. law. Sanctions also complicate Tehran’s access to global banks.
The Iranians were demanding the return of $400 million the Shah’s regime deposited into a Pentagon trust fund in 1979 to purchase U.S. fighter jets, U.S. officials said. They also wanted billions of dollars as interest accrued since then. [The Wall Street Journal, 8/3/16]
Donald Trump And Right-Wing Media Hype Story, Say “The Administration Did Not Reveal This To The Public”
Donald Trump: “Our Incompetent Secretary Of State, Hillary Clinton, Was The One Who Started Talks To Give 400 Million Dollars, In Cash, To Iran. Scandal!”
Fox’s Steve Doocy: “We Didn’t Know About This.” Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy hyped The Wall Street Journal’s article, saying of the $400 million cash payment, “we didn’t know about this.” Host Anna Kooiman also cited Trump’s tweet on the article. From the August 3 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): All right, The Wall Street Journal had an exclusive report yesterday late in the day and now everybody's got it. The same day that four American hostages were released by the country of Iran, earlier that day, under the cover of darkness we believe, the United States sent an unmarked cargo jet. There you've got the hostages landing in Geneva. They've been loaded up in Tehran. Earlier, an unmarked white cargo plane with $400 million on wooden palettes in Swiss francs was delivered to the country of Iran, and right now, people are saying, “wait, that’s hostage money, right? That’s ransom money.” No, the administration says it's not. It might look like it, but indeed what that was was part of $1.7 billion we owed to the country of Iran after that 1979 arms deal and the fall of the Shah of Iran.
ANNA KOOIMAN (CO-HOST): Yeah, they say that it's -- that the settlement actually is resolving a decades-old dispute. But others others are going, “this looks a whole lot like ransom money.”
DOOCY: Do you think?
KOOIMAN: And Donald Trump tweeted this earlier, and he has reason behind it. He says, “Our incompetent Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was the one who started talks to give 400 million dollars, in cash, to Iran. Scandal!”
DOOCY: So you’ve got four Americans released who had been held hostage, and then there's $400 million in that airplane. Remember the American sailors who were taken hostage and, of course, we were told that no money was paid regarding that. But we didn't know about this, what apparently was ransom money either. You got to wonder whether or not there was a secret deal regarding that, too. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/3/16]
Fox’s Tucker Carlson: “The Truth Remains That The Administration Did Not Reveal This To The Public.” Fox host Tucker Carlson stated that the payment “was ransom,” and that “the administration did not reveal this to the public.” While Carlson insisted that “any reasonable person looking at this is going to reach that conclusion,” he admitted that the claim is “[h]ard to prove” and “[m]aybe it’ll never be proved.” From the August 3 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:
BILL HEMMER (HOST): What do you make now with the administration pushing back, suggesting that John Kerry made this public months ago. Yet there does not appear to be a record of Kerry talking about money.
TUCKER CARLSON: No, there doesn't, and of course the administration has talked about this deal in some great detail a lot over the last several months, and never mentioned this. It was done secretly in an unmarked aircraft, as you know. Not in U.S. dollars, in Euros and Francs. Palettes of them. And it was done that way because it would have been illegal to conduct it in U.S. dollars, which tells you everything right there. If you and I did this in American currency, we'd be charged with a felony. And so, there is a secretive component to this. Why would the administration keep this from the American people? That's seems to me that’s a pretty obvious question for Admiral Kirby. But it has an odor to it.
HEMMER: It smells, right?
HEMMER: And that's clear and obvious. If you believe you're on the hook legally for $1.7 billion to Iran, why do you have to keep it secret? And why do have you to do it in cash?
CARLSON: Well that’s a great point.
HEMMER: There are Swiss banks that are available for that, Tucker.
CARLSON: Well, they're going to say that any kind of international banking transaction with Iran is incredibly complicated, which I think, strictly speaking, is true. But why would you do it in secret? This component of the deal was known that Iran was expecting payment of frozen funds, et cetera, et cetera. But the truth remains that the administration did not reveal this to the public, and that American hostages were released at the same time, and it's impossible not to draw the conclusion that this was, at least in part, ransom money. And boy, that's of a piece, by the way. For all the talk about how we never pay for ransom for hostages, we don't negotiate, the truth is that news organizations and governments very often pay ransom and negotiate, and everyone in Washington, for example, knows that. And the lying and the sanctimony around this subject is hard to take once you know that.
HEMMER: What it suggests, ultimately, if this is all true from The Wall Street Journal, is that this administration was desperate to get a deal.
HEMMER: And they were so desperate, if Iran makes the demand, “OK, well, we will match that.”
CARLSON: Yeah, of course, and that the Americans being held in Iran were pawns that accelerated the deal. Used by Iran as leverage. This was ransom. Now, is that provable? Hard to prove it. Maybe it'll never be proved. But I think any reasonable person looking at this is going to reach that conclusion. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 8/3/16]
Rush Limbaugh: “Obama Secretly Paid $400 Million To The Iranians For The Release Of Four American-Iranian Hostages.” Rush Limbaugh asserted that “Barack Hussein Obama secretly paid $400 million to the Iranians for the release of four Iranian American hostages.” From the August 3 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): We were talking about Barack Hussein Obama’s excoriating Donald Trump for being unfit for office. For being unsuitable. Or maybe even being mentally unfit to hold the office of president of the United States. What have we learned since yesterday? We have learned that Barack Hussein Obama secretly paid $400 million to the Iranians for the release of four American-Iranian hostages. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/3/16]
But Most Details Of The WSJ Article Were Announced By The Obama Administration In January
President Obama In January: “The United States And Iran Are Now Settling A Longstanding Iranian Government Claim Against The United States Government.” In a January 17 statement on the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama explained that “engaging directly with the Iranian government on a sustained basis … has created a unique opportunity -- a window -- to try to resolve important issues.” Among those issues, Obama said, was the resolution of a “financial dispute that dated back more than three decades”:
So, nuclear deal implemented. American families reunited. The third piece of this work that we got done this weekend involved the United States and Iran resolving a financial dispute that dated back more than three decades. Since 1981, after our nations severed diplomatic relations, we’ve worked through a international tribunal to resolve various claims between our countries. The United States and Iran are now settling a longstanding Iranian government claim against the United States government. Iran will be returned its own funds, including appropriate interest, but much less than the amount Iran sought.
For the United States, this settlement could save us billions of dollars that could have been pursued by Iran. So there was no benefit to the United States in dragging this out. With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well. [The Washington Post, 1/17/16]
Secretary Of State John Kerry Issued Press Release Announcing Settlement Of Iranian Government’s Claims, Beginning With $400 Million Payment. On January 17, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a press release explaining that Iran will be paid $400 million, to be followed by $1.3 billion more to settle “a long outstanding claim at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in the Hague”:
The United States and Iran today have settled a long outstanding claim at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in the Hague.
This specific claim was in the amount of a $400 million Trust Fund used by Iran to purchase military equipment from the United States prior to the break in diplomatic ties. In 1981, with the reaching of the Algiers Accords and the creation of the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, Iran filed a claim for these funds, tying them up in litigation at the Tribunal.
This is the latest of a series of important settlements reached over the past 35 years at the Hague Tribunal. In constructive bilateral discussions, we arrived at a fair settlement to this claim, which due to litigation risk, remains in the best interests of the United States.
Iran will receive the balance of $400 million in the Trust Fund, as well as a roughly $1.3 billion compromise on the interest. Iran’s recovery was fixed at a reasonable rate of interest and therefore Iran is unable to pursue a bigger Tribunal award against us, preventing U.S. taxpayers from being obligated to a larger amount of money. [U.S. Department of State, 1/17/16]
NY Times: $400 Million Transfer Was “For Military Equipment … Sold To The Shah Of Iran And Never Delivered When He Was Overthrown.” The New York Times reported on January 17 that the president announced the return of “over $400 million in payments for military equipment that the United States sold to the shah of Iran and never delivered when he was overthrown”:
Mr. Obama also announced the resolution of another argument between Tehran and Washington that dates to the Iranian revolution, this one over $400 million in payments for military equipment that the United States sold to the shah of Iran and never delivered when he was overthrown. The Iranians got their money back, with $1.3 billion in interest that had accumulated over 37 years. [The New York Times, 1/17/16]