Obama administration's $2.4B payment to Iran raises questions

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's $1.7 billion payment to Iran to settle an arcane, decades-old financial dispute is prompting questions among Republican lawmakers trying to piece together the full scope of last weekend's dramatic U.S.

See Full Article

-Iranian prisoner swap and the lifting of many American sanctions on Tehran.

The announcement's timing, just after confirmation that three Americans left Iranian airspace, is leading to calls for investigations and shedding light on a little-known fund that the president can dip into when he wants to resolve international financial disputes. Legislative efforts are already afoot to curtail that ability.

U.S. officials deny claims that the payment was a bribe to ensure the release of a total of five Americans traded for the freedom of seven people in legal trouble in the U.S. over business deals with Iran.

Sunday's financial settlement between Washington and Tehran was largely lost amid U.S. elation over the release of the Americans and global interest in the latest benchmark in Iran's nuclear transformation. With the United Nations' confirmation that Iran satisfied the terms of last summer's nuclear agreement, it immediately recouped tens of billions in frozen assets and earned the chance to gain significantly more from suspended oil, trade and financial sanctions.

The much smaller U.S.-Iranian agreement concerned more than $400 million in Iranian money, dating back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the end of diplomatic ties, which the U.S.-backed shah's government used to buy American military equipment. The Iranians got that money back last weekend and some $1.3 billion in interest.

The administration said the settlement was decided on its merits, with officials arguing that Iran demanded more than $3 billion and, at some points during the talks, much more for an agreement.

Earlier this week, however, one Iranian military commander painted the payment in a different light. Mohammad Reza Naghdi, head of the Basij paramilitary wing of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, said the wiring of the funds was a payoff for letting the Americans go.

U.S. officials insist that's not true.

"There was no bribe, there was no ransom, there was nothing paid to secure the return of these Americans who were, by the way, not spies," State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded, referring to the charges that held each of the Americans in Iranian prison for years.

In addition to those who left Sunday on a charter plane for Switzerland -- Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati and pastor Saeed Abedini -- one American was permitted to leave a day earlier while another who was freed from prison opted to stay in Iran. Rezaian returned to the U.S. on the private jet of Post owner Jeff Bezos, the founder of online giant Amazon, the Post reported Friday night.

In exchange for the Americans, the U.S. pardoned or dropped charges against seven Iranian citizens accused of sanctions violations, and gave up on extradition requests for 14 additional people.

In explaining his rationale last weekend, President Barack Obama said the 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."

Obama's aides have insisted the deal was entirely separate, but U.S. officials acknowledge the claims and prisoner negotiations crossed over at times.

Although the matter surfaced in a number of exchanges over the years, talks on the money only gained speed during the last year or so of contacts between the Americans and Iranians focused on the prisoner swap, officials familiar with the process said. They weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.

Lawmakers want more information.

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, is seeking an investigation. The GOP-led House Foreign Affairs Committee has asked congressional researchers to look into the matter. And Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, has introduced legislation in the Senate that would limit Obama's ability to transfer funds to Iran, which could affect other, lingering financial disagreements between the two countries.

"The United States should not be funding governments that openly violate human rights, proudly disregard U.N. Security Council resolutions and call for the destruction of America and its allies," Moran said in a statement.

"Rather than incentivize state-sponsored kidnapping," he said, "the administration should remind the government of Iran that terror and hostage taking are not for-profit enterprises."

Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, told The Associated Press, "This concession was never raised by the State Department as on the table, which the administration must answer for."

To make the payment, the administration returned the $400 million balance from the Iranian account once used for military purchases.

The rest of the money came from an account administered by the Treasury Department for settling litigation claims. The so-called Judgment Fund is taxpayer money Congress has permanently approved in the event it's needed, allowing the president to bypass direct congressional approval to make a settlement. The U.S. previously paid out $278 million in Iran-related claims by using the fund in 1991.


Latest Canada & World News

  • 'A historic moment': Montreal massacre survivor joins Washington rally

    Canada News CTV News
    It’s been more than 28 years since a gunman stormed Montreal’s École Polytechnique, killing 14 women in the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history. Another 14 people were injured in the massacre, including Nathalie Provost, who sustained four gunshot wounds, including one to the forehead. Source
  • 'I will vote you out': Teens vow to shake up U.S. politics at gun control rallies

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Kat Schamel did not vote in the last American election, because her 18th birthday happened to fall on Nov. 9, 2016, one day after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Source
  • Car bomb in coastal Egyptian city kills 2 police

    World News CTV News
    CAIRO -- A bomb placed under a nearby car exploded Saturday in the coastal city of Alexandria as the city security chief's convoy passed by, killing two policemen and wounding four others, the Interior Ministry said. Source
  • Accused Austin bomber called himself a 'psychopath': congressman

    World News CTV News
    AUSTIN, Texas - A congressman says the suspected Austin bomber left a confession calling himself a "psychopath" and saying he felt no remorse for his actions. Rep. Michael McCaul made the comments at a news conference Saturday, where he thanked law enforcement officials for stopping the deadly three-week bombing spree that terrorized the capital of Texas. Source
  • The road map and road blocks of Trump's transgender troops ban explained

    World News CBC News
    U.S. President Donald Trump has issued an order supporting his push to ban most transgender troops from serving in the U.S. military except under "limited circumstances." But the decision is expected to be the subject of an ongoing legal fight in the months ahead. Source
  • Nigerian police: Boko Haram to free 1 more kidnapped girl

    World News CTV News
    MAIDUGURI, Nigeria -- Nigeria's police chief says another girl who was abducted from a school in Dapchi last month is being brought back by her kidnappers. Police Inspector General Muhammed Abubakar said Saturday that he cancelled a trip to Dapchi to avoid interfering with the release. Source
  • Quebec doctors protest their own raises, call for improved patient accessibility

    Canada News CBC News
    When Lashanda Skerritt decided to go to medical school, money was far from being the first thing on her mind — she wanted to serve the population. She is among hundreds of health care workers, patients and community groups who marched in protest of raises for doctors in the province. Source
  • New Brunswick man reaches halfway point of 3,000-kilometre dog sled trek

    Canada News CTV News
    A New Brunswick man making a 3,000-kilometre dog sled trek from Manitoba to his home province says the journey thus far has been "a mix of beauty and terror." Justin Allen and his 12 Alaskan huskies left Churchill, Man. Source
  • 'A revolving door': Neighbours angry about Burnaby B.C. home operating as 9-bedroom hotel

    Canada News CTV News
    A multi-million dollar Burnaby, B.C. home that was advertising nine rooms on short-term rental sites like Airbnb and Booking.com has neighbours calling on municipal authorities to shut down the de-facto hotel. The house was bought for $2.65 million last September. Source
  • Anti-pipeline protests continue in Burnaby, B.C.

    Canada News CTV News
    BURNABY, B.C. -- Anti-pipeline protesters are continuing to demonstrate near Kinder Morgan's terminal in Burnaby, B.C., today. Dozens of people followed Indigenous leaders in a march toward a gate to the Burnaby Terminal, with organizers saying more than 70 of them were prepared to be arrested. Source