The Corner

National Security & Defense

Another Day, Another Secret Obama Side Deal with Iran

According to a September 30 Wall Street Journal article, the Obama administration signed a secret agreement with Iran to lift U.N. sanctions from two Iranian banks — Bank Sepah and Bank Sepah International — that helped finance Iran’s ballistic-missile program. U.S. and Iranian officials signed this deal on January 17, 2016, the same day Iran released four U.S. prisoners.

U.S officials in January said the prisoners were swapped for the release of seven Iranian prisoners by the U.S. and the removal of 21 persons — mostly Iranian nationals — from an INTERPOL wanted list for violating U.S. laws barring transfers of WMD technology and weapons to Iran.

The American people and Congress did not learn until August that the U.S. prisoners were not allowed to leave Iran until a planeload of $400 million in cash sent by the United States had landed in Iran. This payment — and two more over the next month — has been strongly condemned by Republican congressmen as U.S. ransom payments to a state sponsor of terror.

Commenting on the $400 million cash payment to Iran, the prisoner swap and the lifting of sanctions from the Iranian banks, a senior U.S. official told the Journal, “The timing of all this isn’t coincidental. Everything was linked to some degree.”

The Journal also quoted unnamed Obama officials who justified lifting sanctions against the two Iranian banks to “harmonize the U.N. sanctions list with the U.S.’s” and because “Washington believed Iran had earned more sanctions relief because Tehran had been implementing the terms of the nuclear agreement.” The Obama administration lifted U.S. sanctions against Bank Sepah and Bank Sepah International in July 2015. The U.N. Security Council voted to lift these sanctions on January 17, 2016.

This suggests the removal of sanctions against the Iranian banks was part of a broad ransom agreement to free U.S. prisoners held by Iran.

The secret agreement to lift sanctions against the Iranian banks also violated U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, passed in July 2015 which endorsed the JCPOA. This resolution stipulated that U.N. missile-related sanctions against Iran would remain in place for eight years. In addition, lifting sanctions against the two banks broke promises to Congress by Obama officials that the nuclear deal would only lift nuclear-related sanctions against Iran and that U.N. missile sanctions would remain in place for eight years.

The secret deal to lift missile sanctions against the Iranian banks joins a long list of secret JCPOA side deals that the Obama administration illegally withheld from the U.S. Congress and the American people. These include allowing Iran to inspect itself for nuclear weapons work; the dumbing down of IAEA Iran reports; exemptions granted to Iran on its JCPOA obligations so it would receive $150 billion in sanctions relief; sending Iran planeloads of $1.7 billion in cash to free four imprisoned Americans; and an agreement allowing Iran to construct advanced centrifuges in 2027. One has to wonder how many more secret side deals have yet to be disclosed.

I argue in my new book on the Obama administration’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran is national-security fraud. This latest secret side deal is more compelling evidence of this.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff.

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