No, we didn’t ‘owe’ Iran that $1.7 billion ransom payment
Amid all the fuss over President Obama’s “ransom” payment to Iran to free US hostages, less scrutinized is the president’s justification for airlifting cash to Tehran: that we owed them the money. It deserves more attention, because the administration has failed to make its case.
To review: On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration not only paid $400 million in cash to Iran on Jan. 17, but $1.3 billion more in cash in two subsequent shipments — all in Swiss francs, euros and other currencies. The administration claims the payments were returning money Iran paid in 1979 under the Foreign Military Sales program for military equipment it ordered but did not receive, plus interest.
It’s a misdirection. And as Congress returns from its recess, it’s time to focus on two key questions the administration has been refusing to answer ever since the beginning of the year: How was the payment calculated, and was it really due?
In his Jan. 17 announcement, Obama cast the payment as a favorable settlement of Iran’s claim for its 1979 payment. He said he had potentially saved “billions of dollars” Iran could have pursued at the Iran-US Claims Tribunal at The Hague. But the administration has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the merits of the claim or the amount of the payment.
Not for lack of trying on the part of Congress.
On Feb. 3, Rep. Edward J. Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, requested “all legal analyses . . . evaluating the likelihood of Iran prevailing in this dispute” and a “detailed explanation of how the interest payment to Iran of $1.3 billion was calculated.”
Six weeks later, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield responded that the United States “could well have faced significant [additional] exposure in the billions of dollars,” because “Iran was of course seeking very high rates of interest,” and “we are confident that this was a good settlement for the American taxpayer.”
But she provided neither a legal analysis of the claim nor a calculation of the interest paid.