Another Ransom Payment: Obama Signed Secret Deal with Iran to Lift U.N. Sanctions

Getty - Kevin Dietsch/Pool
Getty - Kevin Dietsch/Pool

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) delivers the latest update on President Obama’s Iran deal, in which we learn about yet another secret side agreement, this one signed just hours before Tehran took delivery of a plane filled with $400 million in cash and released four American hostages.

The outlet reports:

According to senior U.S. officials, a senior State Department official, Brett McGurk, and a representative of the Iranian government signed three documents in Geneva on the morning of Jan. 17.

One document committed the U.S. to dropping criminal charges against 21 Iranian nationals, and Tehran to releasing the Americans imprisoned in Iran.

Another committed the U.S. to immediately transfer $400 million in cash to the Iranian regime and arrange the delivery within weeks of two subsequent cash payments totaling $1.3 billion to settle a decades-old legal dispute over a failed arms deal.

The U.S. agreed in a third document to support the immediate delisting of the two Iranian banks, according to senior U.S. officials. In the hours after the documents were signed at a Swiss hotel, the different elements of the agreement went forward: The Americans were released, Iran took possession of the $400 million in cash, and the U.N. Security Council removed sanctions on Bank Sepah and Bank Sepah International, these officials said.

“Lifting the sanctions on Sepah was part of the package,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the deliberations. “The timing of all this isn’t coincidental. Everything was linked to some degree.”

An important detail is that the U.N. sanctions against Iran’s banks, which were supposed to remain in effect until at least 2023, were imposed because of its ballistic-missile research, not its nuclear program. The U.S. Treasury Department also had sanctions against these banks in place for the same reason, but those were openly relieved as part of the nuclear deal.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Iranian media have said Tehran demanded the bank sanctions be lifted as a condition for releasing the American prisoners; in other words, it was a direct ransom payment.

U.S. officials told the WSJ that the administration wanted to “harmonize” U.N. and U.S. sanctions and to reward Iran for implementing the terms of the nuclear agreement. Iran had argued the banks were vital to facilitating the international trade that would become possible once other sanctions were lifted.

However, the Obama administration firmly (and falsely) told Congress that only sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program would be lifted as part of the deal, explicitly stating that ballistic missile sanctions would remain in place. Not only was Bank Sepah involved in Iran’s supposedly still-illegal missile program, the Treasure Department described the bank as the “financial linchpin” of that program in 2007.

“By agreeing to remove U.N. and EU sanctions eight years early on Iran’s main missile financing bank, the administration effectively greenlighted their nuclear warhead-capable ballistic missile program,” Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told The Wall Street Journal.

Fox News reported on Friday that House Speaker Paul Ryan has demanded an “immediate explanation” from President Obama for the secret bank deal.

“This story grows more disturbing with each passing day,” said Ryan. “It now appears that on the same day American hostages were freed from Iran, the administration not only agreed to the $1.7 billion cash ransom payment, but violated a key term of the nuclear deal by prematurely lifting ballistic missile sanctions.”


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