Obama’s ransom to Iran

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

We have all heard the idiom, “If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” That certainly seems to be the case regarding the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of cash the Obama administration sent to Iran before the nation released American prisoners. Despite their vehement protestations, it sure looks like the Obama administration sent a massive ransom to a terrorist-supporting nation to free American hostages in violation of American law and policy.

Last week the Wall Street Journal broke the story that the United States sent $400 million in cash to Iran in an unmarked cargo plane Jan. 17. That was the same day Iran released five American hostages. America also released seven Iranians who were in jail or facing charges in America.

According to the Obama administration, the Americans were released by Iran as part of a prisoner exchange and the cash payment to Iran was part of a separate deal running in parallel to both the nuclear negotiations and the prisoner exchange. The payment was part of a settlement that goes back to the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.

When Iran took Americans hostage that time, President Jimmy Carter severed diplomatic relations with Iran and froze all Iranian assets in America. Once the hostages were finally returned, America returned some of the money and established a tribunal in The Hague to settle the rest of it. One issue to be resolved was a $400 million payment the former Shah of Iran made for military equipment before he was ousted from power. After the uprising, the U.S. banned the delivery of military equipment, but kept the $400 million.

In the 36 years since that happened, the case has wormed its way through The Hague and was reportedly nearing resolution through a binding arbitration process. The Obama administration expected to lose the case and be forced to pay Iran as much as $10 billion, so they reached out to Iran and agreed to settle for $1.7 billion. The $400 million paid to Iran this January was a down payment on the settlement.

Such are the technical details, but they do not tell the whole story. While the negotiations about the nuclear deal, prisoner exchange and financial settlement were being handled by separate parts of the administration, they were all clearly linked, and being handled by the same people in Iran. The Iranian government has told the world as much.

According to the Iranian press and military leaders, they considered the payment a ransom for the American hostages. And according to the Rev. Saeed Abedini, one of the American hostages released, they were held for hours at the airport before being released as guards told them they could not be released until the plane with the cash arrived. Abedini says that the guards told them they would not be released if the other plane failed to arrive. After the plane with the cash arrived, the Americans were released.

Furthermore, it is clear the Obama administration understood the American hostages would not be released if they did not send the cash. First, there is the timing. The $400 million was purportedly part of a settlement for a dispute stretching back to 1979, but they had to send it on the day the prisoners were released. In the more than 12,000 days since the dispute started, why that day if not because the hostage release was contingent on it?

Second, rather than sending the money to Iran as a normal bank transaction, the Obama administration converted hundreds of millions of dollars to Euros, Swiss Francs and other foreign currencies specifically in order to circumvent the law prohibiting U.S. transactions with Iran in dollars. They also structured the deal in a way to avoid briefing Congress on it before Congress voted on the Iran nuclear deal. Despite its claim all of these negotiations were separate, the Obama administration clearly viewed them as unrenderable.

As more facts about the Obama administration’s dealings with Iran come to light, it is clear America’s interests, policies and laws were subverted or subordinated to Barack Obama’s unyielding ambition to notch a foreign policy success after two terms of failed policies.