An unmarked Iranian cargo plane in Switzerland is secretly loaded with pallets stacked with $400 million in foreign cash. Four American hostages are kept huddled in the Tehran airport under armed guard for nearly 24 hours, on their way home but not allowed to leave just yet. Finally, Iran lets the hostages board their plane, and as soon as the wheels are off the ground in Tehran the Iranian officials waiting in Geneva are allowed to take custody of the plane filled with cash. What just happened?
To any objective observer, this looked suspiciously like America just paid Iran the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism a hefty ransom for the safe return of four American prisoners. That’s exactly what the Iranian government boasted of in the state-owned media following the prisoner release. But the White House and State Department vehemently denied that a ransom was paid, and spent seven months stonewalling Congress’s demands for an explanation. It sounded like a ransom, it looked like a ransom, many people believed it was a ransom but there was no solid proof, and the world moved on and forgot. Until now.
In August, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that $400 million in foreign currency was airlifted to Iran on the same night that the four American hostages were released. Previously, the exact timing and details of the money transfer were unknown and President Obama’s administration claimed the two events were unlinked. The administration told Congress and the media in January that the $400 million payment was the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the US agreed to pay Iran for a 1970’s weapons deal. According to the official narrative, this settlement was agreed upon separately as part of the Iran Deal and just happened to take effect the same weekend as the prisoner release.
Now that narrative is falling apart.
The Wall Street Journal story re-ignited accusations that the United States government paid a ransom to Iran in direct violation of standing policy, and used foreign cash to avoid international sanctions still in effect. For the first time, details were revealed that strongly indicated a direct link between the hostage release and the money transfer. The day after the story broke, one of the released hostages Pastor Saeed Abedini gave an interview where he confirmed that Iranian officials told him the prisoners could not board their plane until a “second plane” had arrived from the US. In the ensuing weeks, a firestorm of controversy raged as journalists attempted to nail down the Obama administration’s timeline and definition of what entails a “ransom.”
Details about the exchange continue to leak out, and the State Department and White House continue to dance around using the word “ransom.” But the timeline is no longer in question.
After weeks of prevarication, on August 18th the State Department confirmed that the $400 million payment was used as “leverage” to secure the release of four American prisoners. This admission directly contradicts previous statements by the White House and State Department.
According to spokesman John Kirby, the US refused to deliver the money until the hostages were freed. In an astounding display of rhetorical gymnastics, Mr. Kirby sought to convince reporters that the money was not a ransom because it was delivered moments after, and not before, Iran allowed the hostages to leave. The transcript of that exchange is astonishing in its stubborn refusal to admit what really happened, but nevertheless the State Department no longer denies that the two events were linked. They simply dispute whether it was indeed a ransom, for three reasons:
- The $1.7 billion was owed to Iran as part of a pre-existing deal
- Ransoms can only be paid before hostages are released and not after
- US policy expressly forbids paying ransoms and thus it was not one
The flaws in this logic are easy to see. As Senator Ben Sasse so plainly put it, “If a cash payment is contingent on a hostage release, it’s a ransom.”
The administration will likely never concede that this was a ransom payment, but the world knows. Iran knows. And the precedent has been established. Already Iran has imprisoned three more American citizens, and is demanding another $2 billion payment in frozen Iranian funds that the US Supreme Court ruled is owed to victims of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks. Senator Mark Kirk said, “Paying ransom to kidnappers puts Americans even more at risk. While Americans were relieved by Iran’s overdue release of illegally imprisoned American hostages, the White House’s policy of appeasement has led Iran to illegally seize more American hostages.” In fact, just this week the State Department released a new travel warning for American citizens, advising them that the Iranian regime is actively seeking to detain and imprison more American citizens and that there are no diplomatic mechanisms in place to secure their release. This is not a shock to anyone outside the Obama administration, and this is one of the things Christians United for Israel always believed would be the outcome of trying to appease Iran.
At this point, the damage has been done. We now know that the US government undeniably paid Iran for the release of American citizens, and whether it is called a ransom or just a reward for keeping Iran’s end of the bargain is functionally irrelevant. How it was done was very likely illegal, and at best it was shady, which is why the president and the State Department tried so hard for months to hide the details of these transactions from Congress. After receiving the settlement from America, the Iranian regime increased its military budget by 90% using the full $1.7 billion funded by American tax-payers.
That means the United States gave Iran a fortune that is now in the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and our money will be spent to fund terrorism against both Israel and the United States. From the Iran Deal to the ransom payment, the Obama administration’s actions vis-à-vis Iran have emboldened and enabled the world’s leading sponsor of terror, while weakening America’s standing in the world.