There are growing concerns that the $1.7 billion payment the United States released to Iran last week amounted to a ransom for the freedom of American hostages held by the Islamic Republic, The Wall Street Journal reported (Google link) Thursday.
According to the Journal, the money was wired to Tehran at around the same time that the regime allowed thee American captives– Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, and Cristian pastor Saeed Abedini– to depart the country on a Swiss air force jet. Two other Americans were also freed, though one chose to stay in Iran. In exchange, the U.S. released seven Iranians charged or convicted for smuggling prohibited items to Iran and other crimes. Washington also agreed not to pursue 14 other Iranians, including two wanted for transporting troops and weapons to Syria in support of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The Obama administration insists that the $1.7 billion payment, which settles long-standing claims by Iran against the U.S., was a good deal. “Iran will be returned its own funds, including appropriate interest, but much less than the amount Iran sought,” explained President Barack Obama. Iran’s claim dates back to a $400 million deposit that the Shah of Iran had placed with the U.S. for an arms purchase that was never completed due to the Islamic revolution in 1979. In a process governed by the Hague Claims Tribunal, it was determined that the U.S. would add $1.3 billion in interest charges to the principal.
In years past, the Tribunal also awarded some $2.5 billion to American citizens and companies seeking damages against the Islamic Republic. However, these claims were paid by the American government rather than Iran. “US paid twice—to Iran and US citizens. Iran has never paid at all,” Lee Smith, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, pointed out in a Tweet.
Congressional Republicans are calling for an investigation into the terms of the payment, with Rep. Mike Pompeo (R – Kans.) asserting, “We will do our best to find out if this was in our interest.”
Earlier this week, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of Iran’s Basij militia, claimed, “This money was returned for the freedom of the US spy and it was not related to the [nuclear] negotiations,” reinforcing the impression that the payment was a ransom.
The Journal reported that the administration officials who were in charge of the hostage negotiations, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Middle East specialist Brett McGurk, ensured that “the $1.7 billion payment was cleared by last weekend, according to people involved in the deliberations.”