Obama’s Ransom Diplomacy

by Arthur Herman

Did the Obama administration pay off Iran last January to release the five Americans being held there against their will?

The administration says no. But new evidence just unearthed by Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) says otherwise.

As readers of my January 21 column will recall, at the same time the five hostages were being released, the administration announced the payment of $1.7 billion to Tehran as settlement for a $400 million claim for uncompleted U.S. arms sales going back to the Shah Reza era — that is, $400 million plus $1.3 billion “interest” for a 35-year-old contract with the shah the current regime despises and overthrew.

Instantly suspicious of the timing, Representative Pompeo of the House Select Committee on Intelligence fired off a letter to Secretary of State Kerry asking for answers.

The letter pointed out that “although the $400 million claim stems from an agreement that was with an entirely different in Iran, the previous pro-American administration, we have decided to go ahead and fund the current regime, which still chants ‘death to America.’” Coming after the release of five dangerous Taliban commanders in exchange for alleged Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl and three convicted Cuban spies for one innocent American, this seemed one more example of the administration’s slipshod approach to hostage negotiations — and “will lead to more Americans being captured abroad.”

So Pompeo asked point-blank: “What is the relationship between the $1.7 billion payment and the release of the hostages?” (He added that at least one top Iranian official had described the payment as “a bid to buy freedom of [U.S.] spies held by Tehran”.)

Two months later came Kerry’s answer, penned not by Kerry but a low level assistant secretary for legislative affairs. It’s a masterpiece of prevarication, obfuscation, and devious misdirection — and a revealing example of how the Obama administration not only treats Congress but systematically evades responsibility for its own actions.

Incredibly, the real culprit in the case turns out to be not President Obama but Ronald Reagan, who in 1981 agreed to the creation of the Iran–U.S. Claims Tribunal in that Bermuda Triangle of worthless international organizations, The Hague. Since then the Tribunal has been processing claims between Iranian and American nationals and their respective governments following the release of the original 52 Americans Iran seized during its illegal takeover of the U.S. embassy in 1979 — an action for which, Pompeo has pointed out, Tehran has never paid a dime in damages or compensation.

One of those claims, it seems, was for a trust fund which the shah had set aside to pay U.S. contractors for military sales — sales that came to a halt when he fell from power. Since then, the Iranians have been demanding that the Tribunal oversee the fund’s repayment, plus interest — and in January the Obama administration dutifully responded.

Indeed, the State Department expects to pay even out more in future, as a way to avoid more litigating other outstanding claims in front of the Tribunal.

What’s the upshot of all this?

First of all, nothing in the reply contradicts the suspicion that this $1.7 billion was paid as ransom to the Iranians in order to release the American hostages. On the contrary, the fact that the payment was made in a behind-closed-doors settlement as a way to avoid letting the Tribunal formally decide the case, as the letter acknowledges, strongly suggests the Obama administration knew exactly what it was doing, and why.

Secondly, the fact that the letter claims that “it would not be in the interest of the United States to discuss further details of the settlement of these claims in an unclassified letter” indicates there’s still more collusion with the Tehran regime that the administration is covering up, in order to deceive both Congress and the American people — a deception we’ve already seen at work in the Iran nuclear deal.

Finally, this whole issue still doesn’t touch on the biggest ransom payment of all: the $100 billion and more the administration has released to Iran as part of the lifting of sanctions, which as we’ve noted before is going to be used to rebuild Iran’s military strength and promote its aggressive strategy to become the dominant power in the Middle East — and to try to topple its Sunni rival Saudi Arabia.

Representative Pompeo has vowed he will not stop his investigation “until we have all of the answers.” Let’s hope so, and let’s hope it’s not too late to reverse course on Obama’s disastrous Iran policy and his ransom diplomacy.

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