The Obama administration secretly airlifted $400 million in cash to Iran in January at the same time Tehran was releasing four jailed Americans, payment that a top congressional Republican is calling “ransom.”
The Wall Street Journal, citing U.S. and European officials and congressional sources, reported that the administration procured the money from central banks in Switzerland and the Netherlands. The money was stacked on wooden pallets and flown to Tehran in an unmarked cargo plane.
The money represented the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement that the administration reached with Iran to resolve a decades-old failed arms deal signed before the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Journal reported.
The settlement came at the same time as formal implementation of the historic nuclear agreement reached between Tehran, the U.S. and other world powers.
“With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” President Obama said at the time, without revealing the $400 million payment.
Senior U.S. officials denied that there was any link between the payment and the prisoner exchange.
“As we’ve made clear, the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim … were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told the paper. “Not only were the two negotiations separate, they were conducted by different teams on each side, including, in the case of The Hague claims, by technical experts involved in these negotiations for many years.”
But Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican and an outspoken critic of the Iran nuclear deal, accused Mr. Obama of paying “a $1.7 billion ransom to the ayatollahs for U.S. hostages.”