A Supreme Leader’s RansomOp-Ed
In the Orange County Register:
In January, a jet touched down in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Its mission was to pick up four American hostages. The Obama administration paid a heavy price for their freedom, releasing or closing cases against 21 Iranians convicted or accused of serious crimes from sanctions evasion to purchasing equipment for Iran’s illegal weapons programs. Unfortunately, the true cost to the United States is becoming clearer.
We now know that a second aircraft landed in Tehran that night. Its mission was to airlift $400 million worth of cash to Iran, the first installment of a $1.7 billion payment. One press report described “wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies” being whisked across the tarmac. Foreign currency was used in order to side-step U.S. restrictions on Iran’s access to the dollar. While it sounds like a movie scene, no cameras rolled. The Obama administration hid this payment from Congress and the American people.
To hear the State Department tell it, this $1.7 billion is a settlement for an arms sale that was called off after the radicals that rule Iran seized power in 1979: Iran’s $400 million original payment plus $1.3 billion, a whole lot of interest. The dispute over this aborted sale had dragged on for over 35 years. That Iran received the initial payment – in cash – on the same day it released American hostages was a just coincidence, the White House would have us believe. I don’t think so.
We now know that senior Justice Department officials raised red flags, warning that Iran would see the payment as a ransom. After all, Iran had demanded cash during the negotiations over the four Americans. Giving in to this demand would only encourage this rogue regime to take more Americans hostage, they argued. That is why it has long been U.S. policy not to pay ransom.
The Obama administration’s decision to ignore this policy and the counsel of its own officials has put more American lives in jeopardy. Since that plane full of cash landed, Iran has detained at least two more Americans, as well as French, British and Canadian citizens. We certainly can expect demands of more cash for their release.
Putting hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and top money launderer, means a more dangerous region. Crates of cash is the preferred payment method for Iran’s terrorist proxies, including Hezbollah, which has thousands of fighters on the front lines in Syria and tens of thousands of rockets pointed at Israel. Cash is also useful as Iran continues to buy parts for its illegal – and expanding – missile program on the black market.
The administration has a lot of explaining to do. After this so-called settlement was announced in January, I asked a number of questions about its connection to the hostages and how the money was sent. The administration refused to answer with any substance.
Now that it’s clear that this settlement served as a ransom – paid in cash – questions abound. Will the next $1.3 billion be delivered in cash too? In recent weeks, Iran has attacked a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paves the way for nearly $2 billion in Iranian funds locked up in the United States to be used to pay American victims of Iranian terrorist attacks. Is the White House trying to even the ledger for Iran?
This ransom was paid the very weekend the president’s flawed nuclear agreement was implemented. That deal enshrines Iran as a dangerous nuclear power. The damage of doing so is now compounded by this $400 million cash payment, which emboldens Iran to ramp up its hostage-taking, support for terrorism, and illegal missile tests.
This episode is yet another extraordinary step the Obama administration has taken to accommodate Iran, as its supreme leader pushes for more sanctions relief and threatens to walk away from the nuclear deal. With their secret delivery exposed, President Obama and Secretary Kerry hopefully will stop flying cash to Iran. My worry is they are looking for a bigger plane
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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