Bradley Byrne who represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives discussed the U.S. and its “ransom” payment to the Iranian regime. He recalls that in June 2015 President Obama said “I am reaffirming that the United States government will not make concessions, such as paying ransom, to terrorist groups holding American hostages”.
This is nothing new – the U.S. government has said for a long time that they will not pay ransoms to terrorists as it can further encourage kidnapping. Yet in January this year, $400 million were sent to the Islamic Republic of Iran from the U.S. On the same day, several Americans who were imprisoned in Iran were released. Byrne points out that this was “clearly a ransom payment and broke the decades old policy of the United States not paying ransom”.
Even worse, he said, it did not stop there. The United States paid Iran $1.7 billion. The money was said to be related to a decades old dispute about an Iranian arms sale, but the payment was clearly related to the release of U.S. prisoners.
Byrne is concerned about this for several reasons. Firstly, giving money to Iran is effectively supporting terrorism. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism and has a clear history with groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.
The second reason is that the U.S. should never pay a ransom. The Obama administration claimed that it was a “settlement”. Iranian officials, on the other hand, have said the payment was a ransom. Byrne quotes an Iranian who said that “the money was returned for the freedom of the U.S. spy and it was not related to the [nuclear] negotiations”.
The notion that this was in fact a ransom was confirmed by an official in Obama’s administration who raised concerns that the cash payment to Iran “would send a signal that the United States had changed our policy on paying ransom”.
Thirdly, the fact that the payment was made in cash is an issue. Byrne said: “The payment could have been done by a wire transfer, which would have made it easier to track what Iran does with the money.” This is especially concerning given Iran’s history of money laundering.
Byrne announced that last week that the House of Representatives passed a bill to disallow any future ransom payments to the Islamic Republic. It also requires a 30-day Congressional notification and review of any future settlements related to the U.S. Iran Claims Tribunal. Congress can thus review future payments. “Ultimately, we need to stop empowering Iran and instead start weakening them. By putting our foot down, the American people and our allies in the Middle East will be safer and stronger.”