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Rubio Introducing Legislation to Get 'Ransom Payment' Refund from Iran

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) returns to work on Capitol Hill on March 17, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he’ll introduce legislation to recoup a $1.7 billion settlement from Iran, including the $400 million shipped on a cargo plane in cash at the time of the release of five U.S. hostages.

Back on Jan. 17, a senior administration official told reporters on a background call that the U.S. was “settling a longstanding Iranian government claim against the United States government” regarding a shah-era contract in the Foreign Military Sales program. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that $4o0 million would be paid to Iran, plus $1.3 billion interest, for weapons payments taken from Iran but no delivery of the weapons. Kerry acknowledged that there could be other settlements in addition to Iran’s 37-year-old beef.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the administration “secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran” coinciding with the mid-January release of five Americans.

GOP lawmakers decried the shipment as ransom for the long-held hostages. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said opposition came from “those who are flailing in their attempt to justify their continued opposition to the deal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

As far as the Hague settlement over the long-ago arms deal being paid with cash-laden pallets in a cargo plane, Earnest said “the fact of the matter is the United States does not have a banking relationship with Iran.”

“It is against the policy of the United States to pay ransom for hostages,” he said.

Rubio did not say if there was a draft of his legislation yet. The Senate is on recess until after Labor Day.

“Iran is the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. It is disgusting that the Obama administration would even contemplate providing almost $2 billion to a terrorist-sponsoring regime as an illicit ransom payment,” Rubio said. “As the administration has stated in its own hostage policy, paying hostage-takers endangers American citizens.”

The senator vowed his bill would be crafted in a way “to get this money back from Iran” as well as ban “any future ransom payments by the U.S. government to countries or groups that take Americans hostage.”

Earnest wouldn’t say Wednesday if the remaining $1.3 billion had already been sent to Iran, telling reporters to check with the Treasury Department.

“The president’s actions are unacceptable and come as the Iranians continue to refuse to work with us to locate Floridian Robert Levinson, the longest-held hostage in American history, who was last seen on Iran’s Kish Island in 2007,” Rubio continued. “Iran has pocketed this money and continues to hold and take more Americans hostage. President Obama’s actions have endangered all Americans abroad.”

Since the nuclear deal went into effect, Iran has seized American Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer Namazi, Canadian Homa Hoodfar, Briton Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and Lebanese Nizar Zikka, a permanent U.S. resident who was invited by the regime to a conference on women’s entrepreneurship in September and then arrested. Last month, Iran took another American: Robin Shahini of San Diego, who has a history of criticizing Iran’s human-rights abuses and was visiting family in the country.

Earnest insisted that negotiations regarding the hostages and negotiations over the arms-deal settlement were separate entities. Rubio called that “just unbelievable and disingenuous” and “also contrary to Iran’s statements.”

“It is a sad day when Iranian officials appear to be more honest than our own president, who owes the American people a better explanation than the outright lies that he and his administration have told thus far,” Rubio added.