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.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Several bloody footprints found at crime scene in Calgary triple murder

    Canada News CTV News
    Calgary police found several bloody footprints when they began an investigation into the disappearance of a couple and their missing grandson in 2014. Calgary Police Sgt. Lynn Gallen is testifying at the first-degree murder trial of Douglas Garland. Source
  • ‘Best mommy’ accused of savagely taping toddler to wall

    World News Toronto Sun
    REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — A young woman accused of taping her 2-year-old son to a wall so she could get some housework done and streaming it live on social media was arrested on Thursday. Shayla Rudolph, 18, was arrested on an abduction charge, Reynoldsburg police said. Source
  • Manitoba premier says indigenous night hunting is starting a 'race war'

    Canada News CTV News
    WINNIPEG -- Manitoba's premier says indigenous people shouldn't be night hunting and the practice is creating what he calls a "race war." Brian Pallister made the comment during a speech to fellow Progressive Conservatives earlier this week in Virden, Man. Source
  • Joy erupts as Italian rescuers pull out avalanche survivors [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    FARINDOLA, Italy — Five people were found alive in the rubble of an Italian hotel Friday, two days after an avalanche tore through the mountain resort and trapped an estimated 30 people inside, rescue crews reported. “We found five people alive. Source
  • Province should be incubator for health-care innovation: Nova Scotia premier

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- The Nova Scotia government says if federal officials have innovative ideas about how to better deliver health care, they should test them first in the Maritime province. Premier Stephen McNeil made the unusual pitch today, after federal Health Minister Jane Philpott held a series of closed-door meetings in Halifax with provincial officials and Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine. Source
  • ‘Stop crying snowflakes, Trump won’; Protesters cause chaos, smash windows on Inauguration Day [Photos]

    World News Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to fill the nation’s capital for the inauguration of Donald Trump, and while the majority of those expected in Washington on Friday will be there to celebrate, some protesters say their plan is to do their best to disrupt the day. Source
  • Douglas Garland triple murder trial hears about bloody footprints in Liknes home

    Canada News CBC News
    An expert in crime scene footwear impressions is testifying on Day 5 of Douglas Garland's triple murder trial about a bloody footprint found at the home where a five-year-old boy and his grandparents were last seen. Source
  • George H.W. Bush, wife remain hospitalized in Houston

    World News CTV News
    HOUSTON -- Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, remained hospitalized in Houston on Friday, a family spokesman said. The 92-year-old former president is being treated for breathing difficulties stemming from pneumonia. Source
  • Freeze-dried food and 1 bathroom: 6 simulate Mars in dome

    World News Toronto Sun
    Six carefully selected scientists have entered a man-made dome on a remote Hawaii volcano as part of a human-behaviour study that could help NASA as it draws up plans for sending astronauts on long missions to Mars. Source
  • Feds dole out $146K to foes of proposed nuclear waste bunker near Lake Huron

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Ten groups and individuals have been given another $146,000 to help them weigh in on the wisdom of burying hazardous nuclear waste in a bunker close to the shore of Lake Huron. The bulk of the new money from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is earmarked for indigenous people to take part in the review of the safety of the contentious project proposed for near Kincardine, Ont. Source