Terrorists want cash, and the Administration just handed over billions in cash to Iran, a regime the State Department calls the biggest state sponsor of terrorism.
News reports revealed the U.S. secretly airlifted cash to Iran, $400 million in January 2016 and another $1.3 billion weeks later, under a controversial settlement of a nearly 40-year-old legal dispute. As chairman of the Senate banking subcommittee that oversees the Treasury Department’s Iran sanctions, I held a hearing last week to examine the dangers of giving cash to Iran.
"The only reason to insist that cash in the form of Euros and Swiss francs be provided to Iran—in Iran—is to permit that money to be distributed outside its borders in a way that cannot be traced,” former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey added. “There is only one purpose for which cash in that amount is useful, and that is to do what Iran has been doing around the world, which is acting as a sponsor of terrorism.”
While the White House claims cash was the only way to legally pay Iran, we learned last week this isn’t true.
The Treasury Department admitted the Administration made at least two wire transfer payments to Iran. In July 2015, $848,000 was wired to settle a dispute over art and fossils. In April 2016, $9 million was wired under a deal to remove excess materials from Iran’s nuclear program.
These wire payments contradict the Administration’s claim that American sanctions laws prevented payment to Iran in any other form than cash, and raise questions about why they agreed to pay in cash over more transparent and accountable methods.
When the January 2016 cash payment occurred as Iran released four illegally-detained Americans, the White House insisted the two were unrelated. They claimed Iran had released those Americans solely in exchange for the release of imprisoned Iranian nationals, including seven Iranians convicted or accused of violating U.S. sanctions laws.
Seven months later, the Administration reversed explanation and admitted the cash payment was explicitly used as “leverage” to secure Iran’s release of hostages. Given what we know now, this apparently was not only a “prisoners-for-hostages” swap, but also a “cash-for-hostages” ransom payment.
I am relieved American citizens came home after being illegally detained by Iran. Yet it’s clear Iran has become more belligerent since the $1.7 billion cash payments.
Most obviously, Iran took new American hostages, including Baquer Namazi and Reza Shahini. The State Department subsequently issued an August 22nd travel advisory warning U.S. citizens against visiting Iran due to “risk of arrest and detention.”
Iran also repeatedly tested ballistic missiles that threaten Israel and American forces in the region. It formed a new foreign legion to fight sectarian wars in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. It used fast-attack boats to harass U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf. And it threatened to shoot down U.S. reconnaissance planes in the Persian Gulf.
The $1.7 billion cash payments may be the tip of the iceberg, as the Administration reportedly released more cash both during and after nuclear negotiations. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies estimates the U.S. oversaw the transfer of $33.6 billion in cash and precious metals to Iran in the worst-case scenario.
$33.6 billion is enough cash to circle the earth four times in $100 bills or fund Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists for 168 years.
Iran and its terrorist proxies have killed more Americans than ISIS has. General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says Iran-backed militants killed some 500 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 1980s, Iran’s Hezbollah terrorists killed over 290 Americans in Lebanon. Sergeant John Phillips of Wilmette, IL, whom I went to church with, was among 241 Americans murdered when Hezbollah bombed the Beirut Marine barracks on October 23, 1983.
To those who say the cash the White House transferred “is Iran’s money,” I would say we don’t owe a penny until Iran pays the $55.6 billion it owes Sergeant Phillips’ family and other American victims of Iranian terrorism under U.S. court judgments.
The American people deserve honest answers from the White House about the terrorism-financing dangers of the billions it transferred to Iran. Giving cash to the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism is a tremendous mistake by the Administration, and a decision that I disagree with. Iran is in a better position to inflict more harm on Americans and the free world.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.