Analysis: The Obama Administration's Laughable Spin on $400 Million 'Non-Ransom' Payment to Iran

Guy Benson
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Posted: Aug 04, 2016 1:25 PM
Analysis: The Obama Administration's Laughable Spin on $400 Million 'Non-Ransom' Payment to Iran

The Wall Street Journal  reports this week that the Obama administration flew a plane packed with $400 million in cash to the Iranian regime in January -- just as Tehran finally released four American hostages who'd languished in Iranian prisons for years. Fact A had absolutely nothing to do with Fact B, Team Smart Power insists.  Just like they supposedly didn't negotiate with terrorists over the Bergdahl/'Taliban Five' swap.  We'll address that claim in a moment, but here are details of the secretive payment:

The Obama administration secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran, according to U.S. and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the operation afterward. Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane, according to these officials. The U.S. procured the money from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland, they said...Senior U.S. officials denied any link between the payment and the prisoner exchange. They say the way the various strands came together simultaneously was coincidental, not the result of any quid pro quo...But U.S. officials also acknowledge that Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible.

The $400 million was paid in foreign currency because any transaction with Iran in U.S. dollars is illegal under U.S. law. Sanctions also complicate Tehran’s access to global banks. “Sometimes the Iranians want cash because it’s so hard for them to access things in the international financial system,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the January cash delivery. “They know it can take months just to figure out how to wire money from one place to another.” The Obama administration has refused to disclose how it paid any of the $1.7 billion, despite congressional queries, outside of saying that it wasn’t paid in dollars. Lawmakers have expressed concern that the cash would be used by Iran to fund regional allies, including the Assad regime in Syria and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which the U.S. designates as a terrorist organization.

A few points here: If this was all on the up-and-up, why has the administration refused to tell Congress how this payment was furnished?  Nothing screams "this is legitimate and required under international law" like flying an unmarked cargo plane packed with foreign currency into a rogue regime's capital -- conduct that the US government typically forbids and punishes.  The reason that "any transaction with Iran in US dollars is illegal under US law," and that "it's so hard for them to access things in the international system" is that Iran is designated as the world's leading state sponsor or terrorism.  Perhaps "lawmakers express[ed] concern" that Iran would use that money to finance terror and sow regional mayhem because that's that Iran does.  President Obama even acknowledged that sanctions relief funds from his reckless nuclear deal might be used for destructive purposes.  Iran has already lived up to its evil reputation on this front.

But the very best detail of the entire piece, which includes a long "official story" from the administration (what a great deal for taxpayers!), is the assertion that there was no quid pro quo whatsoever.  This assurance is followed almost immediately by the following sentence: "U.S. officials also acknowledge that Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible."  How dare you, there was no ransom, stop with the right-wing conspiracies.  But yeah, their hostage release negotiators really wanted that cash.  An insult to our collective intelligence.  Does anyone beyond Obama's most credulous die-hards believe that those prisoners would be free today if that payment hadn't arrived?  Anyone?  Here is CNN's chyron as a State Department spokesman spun his yarn:

Let's play along, for the sake of argument. Let's say this really was just a remarkable, cosmic coincidence. First of all, relatively few people would believe it, because the Obama administration has lied over and over again to the American people about its dealings with Iran.  Their credibility is shot, as evidenced by the enduring and richly deserved unpopularity of the nuclear accord, about which we continue to discover unpleasant and unlawful surprises.  Secondly, on what planet is the United States of America required to settle a decades-old dispute with Iran's former government -- on the current outlaw regimes terms and timeline, no less?  As noted above, Iran is the world's top terror state, currently under sanctions from the entire civilized world for the worst sorts of misconduct.  It is preposterous that the administration had no ability to forestall or reject the fulfillment of a non-payment dispute that predates the anti-American revolution and subsequent hostage crisis.  Not only is Tehran actively aiding and abetting international terrorism, we've recently discovered that they're harboring senior Al Qaeda officials -- a fact the White House knew, prompting the Treasury Department to impose additional sanctions.  And we're supposed to believe that amid that climate, Obama Inc. just coincidentally happened to fly giant stacks of cold hard cash on an unmarked airplane on the very day the hostages were set free? And that they had no choice in the matter, all while withholding details from Congress for some reason? Seems legit.  And never mind this minor detail:

Iran knows that under Obama, it can get away with (a) demanding and receiving ransom payments for US hostages, then (b) humiliating the White House by publicly contradicting their after-the-fact spin. It's entirely reasonable to look at the timing and method of this transaction, as well as the patterns of behavior of both parties involved, and conclude that this was a ransom payment arranged under the auspices of a Hague-ordered smokescreen.  Because our president has a regime to appease and a legacy project to protect.  I'll leave you with an administration spokesman admitting that no, he can't rule out the possibility that the ransom money above-board payment might be used to subsidize terrorist groups.  That's kind of Iran's thing, after all:

Oh, and a reminder of how incentives work: "Since the cash shipment, the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guard has arrested two more Iranian-Americans. Tehran has also detained dual-nationals from France, Canada and the U.K. in recent months."  Smart power.