In January of this year, the administration sent an unmarked cargo plane to Switzerland. There, U.S. representatives arranged for $400M in government funds to be converted into cash in foreign currencies, mostly Swiss francs and some euros, all in relatively small denominations. These were stacked onto wooden pallets – this much cash in small bills is very bulky – and loaded onto the plane. It then flew to Mehrabad airport in Tehran where the cargo was unceremoniously unloaded and delivered to Iranian authorities. There was no public announcement of this incident or its purpose. That same day, scant hours after this delivery, four American hostages long-held by Iran were released.
These events have just been revealed in somewhat sensationalized newspaper reports. The administration was quick to claim that these two simultaneous events were just coincidental. The payment related to our decision to settle a long-standing legal dispute over withheld funds going back to the Shah era. The hostage release was the outcome of lengthy negotiations, also involving a return of some Iranians convicted of various charges in the U.S. The two independent negotiations just happened to culminate on the same day. Oh yes, and the intricate currency transaction was constructed to circumvent sanctions that proscribe sending actual U.S. currency to Iran. As the administration spokesman put it, “Move on. There’s nothing to see here.” He also commented that much of this information has been readily available for a long time, although without some of the spy-novel details.
Ok, now re-read that tale. Take note of the circumstances of the money transfer. Wouldn’t any reasonable person consider this a ransom payment? Otherwise, why the secrecy and subterfuge and why the timing coincidence? I am not the only one looking askance at this; top Justice Department officials strongly opposed doing this, or at least doing it in the fashion described, but they were overruled by Kerry’s State Department. And, by the way, the Iranians have publicly and exultingly declared this to be a successful ransom. Since January, several more Americans have been detained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, presumably to fill their coffers once more when the need arises.
If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, …
Honestly, I don’t really care and perhaps paying a ransom in this circumstance was the best available resolution. After all, the funds belonged to the Iranians and the long-running international case deciding their disposition wasn’t certain to resolve in our favor. But I really, really hate being talked to as though I were a fool. If they are going to lie, then just deny it ever happened and defy anyone to prove otherwise; don’t make up this ridiculous fairy tale. It’s insulting.