Ransom Payment to Iran ?

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Ransom Payment to Iran ?

Republicans are outraged at the Obama administration over recent payments to Iran totaling more than $1.3 billion. This week, the GOP-dominated House will hold a hearing that focuses especially on the $400 million in foreign currency that was flown to the Islamic Republic at the beginning of this year. The stacks of cash arrived the same day that Iran returned four American prisoners. President Obama has defended the payments as part of an earlier settlement. He insists none were delivered as ransom. For the GOP, however, the move appears as yet another instance of the administration capitulating to an enemy and possibly acting above the law.
Senator Ted Cruz (Republican – Texas) has led calls for more hearings on the administration’s $400 million cash shipment to Iran. Cruz notes that, for decades, the U.S. has refused to pay ransom to any country or group holding American hostages. The idea is that, although ransoms may be an immediate means of rescue, over the long run they encourage the capture of more Americans. Making matters worse, Cruz argues that Iran is the “world’s leading state sponsor” of terrorism, referring to its patronage of Hezbollah, among other dangerous organizations. Iran, because it backs groups on the State Department’s terrorism list, is under U.S. sanctions that prevent Americans from doing business with the country. For Cruz, this raises the possibility that the administration’s payments, apart from being imprudent, were actually illegal.
President Barack Hussein Obama has accused critics of engaging in “the manufacturing of outrage.” Obama points out that the $400 million cash shipment was part of a previously agreed-upon $1.3 billion settlement over a botched 1979 arms deal. In that deal, the U.S. received payment from the old regime, but never sent weapons after anti-American revolutionaries took power. Iran had been seeking as much as $10 billion to account for inflation and accumulated interest. The timing of the $400 million payment, the administration says, was intentionally used as leverage. In other words, not trusting the Iranians, U.S. officials withheld the money until American prisoners were being safely returned. This was not part of any ransom negotiation, Obama says, but rather using a pre-existing arrangement to kill two birds with one stone.
Senator Mark Kirk (Republican – Illinois) has been another leading GOP critic of the Obama administration’s payment to Iran, particularly because it was made with pallets of cash. The usual payment method would be wiring money via banks. In controversial remarks, Kirk accused President Obama of betraying America’s commitment to transparency and behaving like America’s “drug-dealer-in-chief.” For Kirk, the move damaged U.S. prestige as it was more typical of a corrupt government than the world’s leading democracy. At the same time, the stacks of foreign currency sent to the “sponsor of terror” will be practically impossible to trace. According to Kirk, the money will likely wind up in the hands of dangerous groups across the Middle East and compound the crises that already exist in that region.

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