The Mendacity Behind Obama's Mockery of the Cash-for-Iran Story
What's now clear is that Obama misled the public months ago, with an artfully crafted tale -- omitting any mention of all that colorful cash. On Jan. 17, the same Saturday that Iran freed the American prisoners, Obama delivered a long statement, celebrating the formal implementation a day earlier of the Iran nuclear deal. In the same statement, Obama announced as if it were a separate issue -- "a second major development" -- that "several Americans unjustly detained by Iran are finally coming home." Framing this strictly as a prisoner swap, Obama added that "in a reciprocal gesture" seven Iranians charged or convicted of crimes in the U.S. were being released (he neglected to add that the U.S. was also dropping extradition requests for another 14 Iranians).
Then, as if turning to yet another, independent issue, Obama mentioned the payment to Iran, but without naming any actual amount, or time frame, or how the funds would be conveyed. He said, "the third piece of work that we got done this weekend involved the United States and Iran resolving a financial dispute that dated back more than three decades." Obama advertised this settlement as a terrific deal for America, while omitting entirely such eye-catching specifics as the information that he had directly approved a $1.7 billion payout to Iran, starting with a $400 million airborne stash of cash that we now know was touching down in Tehran within hours -- give or take -- of his public remarks.
Instead, Obama announced the payment in generic terms, further smoothing over the implications by using the passive voice: "Iran will be returned its own funds, including appropriate interest, but much less than the amount sought."
To the extent Obama used his high-profile podium to name any particular sum, he mentioned not the payout, but his rough estimate, purely hypothetical, that this deal might ultimately save America money. He said (the italics, highlighting the speculative nature of his statement, are mine): "For the United States, this settlement could save us billions of dollars that could have been pursued by Iran." Obama then used that bait-and-switch bit of guesswork about "billions" in savings to justify the timing: "So there was no benefit to the United States in dragging this out."
Actually, it's far from clear that there would have been no benefit to dragging out any settlement. Four previous American presidents had already dragged it out, quite rightly postponing the day that terror-sponsoring Iran might get its hands on a payout. But not Obama.
Obama deflected to Secretary of State John Kerry the job of handling the public "messaging" about the actual sum the U.S. had agreed to pay Iran, which totalled $1.7 billion. On that same day of Obama's statement, and Iran's prisoner release, Jan. 17, Kerry put out a press statement saying the U.S. and Iran had settled a dispute over roughly $400 million paid by Iran long ago, under the Shah, for a U.S. arms deal that fell through after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Kerry described the agreement as if it were relatively routine, saying it was: "the latest in a series of important settlements reached over the past 35 years at the Hague Tribunal." Citing "litigation risk" as the reason the Obama administration had chosen to settle this dispute that dated back well over three decades, Kerry said Iran would receive the $400 million plus "a roughly $1.3 billion compromise on the interest."
Finally, this week, The Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon and Carole E. Lee broke the news of the secret Obama-approved cash airlift in mid-January to Iran. Their story included such details as the U.S. government swapping 400 million U.S. dollars into euros, Swiss francs and other currency via the Dutch and Swiss central banks, loading the cash on pallets and flying the loot to Tehran's Mehrabad Airport aboard an unmarked cargo plane. The Journal cited a report from an Iranian news site close to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Tasnim agency, which said the cash arrived on the same day the American prisoners left, Jan. 17.
Forced to admit that the cash shipment took place, the Obama administration now appears to be having great difficulties locating information on what time the cargo plane landed in Tehran -- before or after the American prisoners took off? Asked about this at a press briefing on Thursday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner replied: "I don't believe we've gotten clarity on that."
There's also no clarity to date on how the Obama administration handled the payout to Iran of the additional $1.3 billion in interest. On Thursday The Wall Street Journal reported that "administration officials said the remaining $1.3 billion was later paid out of a fund used to pay judgments and settlements of claims against the U.S." But the Journal story included no information on how or when the U.S. made that additional payment, most likely because the administration won't say. Also this Thursday, the New York Times reported: "White House officials have declined to say whether the rest of the $1.7 billion payment (including $1.3 billion in interest) was also made in cash."