At the same time that four detained Americans were released by Tehran in January, the Obama administration sent $400 million cash in an unmarked plane to Iran, according to a published report by The Wall Street Journal.
The money, stacked atop wooden pallets, consisted of euros, Swiss francs, and other international currencies from the central banks of Switzerland and the Netherlands, as it is illegal for the U.S. to do any monetary transaction with Iran in US dollars.
U.S and European officials who were briefed on the operation said the payout was the first payment of $1.7 billion owed by the U.S. to Iran for a failed arms deal that was signed before the 1979 fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, according to the Aug. 2 article.
The Obama administration has denied claims that the $400 million were in exchange for the four detainees, insisting it was to lessen the load of the large financial obligation. The release of the prisoners and shipment of money was purely coincidental, according to White House officials.
“As we’ve made clear, the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim … were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told the Journal.
“Not only were the two negotiations separate, they were conducted by different teams on each side, including, in the case of The Hague claims, by technical experts involved in these negotiations for many years.”
According to the Journal, U.S. officials did admit that Iran wanted money in exchange for the detainees to show they had “gained something tangible.”
When President Obama spoke of the release of Saeed Abedini, Nosratollah Khosravi, former Marine Corps sergeant Amir Hekmati, and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian on Jan. 17, he didn’t mention the multi-million-dollar payout.
“If true, this report confirms our longstanding suspicion that the administration paid a ransom in exchange for Americans unjustly detained in Iran,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said in a statement on Aug. 3.
If true, this report confirms our longstanding suspicion that the admin paid a ransom to #Iran.
My full statement ↓ pic.twitter.com/2BHqlYbBKx
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) August 3, 2016
The US has had a longstanding policy against payments of ransom for captured Americans overseas.
In June 2015, the administration amended a law that prosecuted families of captives who gave in to the demands of captors.
Following the news of the cash payment to Iran, Senator Tom Cotton accused Obama of paying a “ransom” to the Iranian government.
“This break with longstanding U.S. policy put a price on the head of Americans, and has led Iran to continue its illegal seizures [of Americans],” Cotton said.