The U.S. sent Iran two previously unknown planeloads of cash, totaling $1.3 billion, in late January and early February, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday night, causing lawmakers to worry that the cash will be used to finance terrorism and destabilize the Middle East. The administration had already admitted to have paid $1.7 billion to Iran, including an initial $400 million cash payment flown in on a plane, but had refused to discuss the logistics of how it paid the remaining $1.3 billion. Many experts and lawmakers criticized this initial shipment as a ransom payment, as it was contingent upon the release of American hostages from Iranian detention. The administration denied the charge of ransom, claiming instead that the money was used as “leverage” to free the detained Americans.
“U.S. lawmakers have voiced concern that Iran’s military units, particularly the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, would use the cash to finance military allies in the Middle East, including the Assad regime in Syria, Houthi militias in Yemen, and the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah,” Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee of the Journal reported. Analyst Saeed Ghasseminejad of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote in June that Iran’s 2016-17 budget called for the $1.7 billion to be designated for use by Iran’s military forces. Furthermore, Iran’s military budget increased 90% from the previous year, with the American money payments earmarked for defense spending by approval of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In other words, U.S. government money was converted into non-U.S. currencies by European central banks, loaded into unmarked Iranian cargo planes with links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and then allocated for the Iranian military.
The planes that flew the original $400 million in cash from Geneva, Switzerland to Tehran—and presumably the balance of the $1.3 billion, if the money “flowed in the same manner,” as the Journal reported—belong to Iran Air, which had been designated as a terrorist entity by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2011 for being used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s Ministry of Defense to transport military-related equipment, including rockets and missiles. “The IRGC is also known to disguise and manifest such shipments as medicine and generic spare parts,” the Treasury asserted. The IRGC has in some instances taken control of commercial Iran Air flights, loading its own cargo and discouraging Iran Air pilots from inspecting them. U.S. officials have not indicated that such activity has stopped. The administration used a technicality to drop sanctions on the airline as part of the nuclear deal, stating that it was sanctioned under an executive order relating to weapons of mass destruction, not terrorism.
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