Was it ransom? That is the question that is now being asked as a Wall Street Journal report of a $400 million payment to Iran emerges. The money, reportedly Swiss francs and Euros that were provided by European countries, was delivered in pallets of cold, hard cash via unmarked cargo plane as four Americans were released back in January. Three of the Americans were flown out of Iran by the Swiss, while the fourth returned to the United States on his own.
Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Geneva. (Photo: U.S. Mission/Eric Bridiers)
Supposedly, the money was delivered as part of a $1.7 billion settlement surrounding an arms deal made before the fall of the Shah of Iran. Among the big components of that deal were guided-missile destroyers and F-16 fighters. The destroyers later were taken into service with the United States Navy as the Kidd-class destroyers, all of whom were named for admirals killed in action during World War II. The timing of that settlement, though, raised questions about whether the settlement was cover for a ransom payment. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, told The Wall Street Journal, "This break with longstanding U.S. policy put a price on the head of Americans, and has led Iran to continue its illegal seizures."
Cotton's comments were echoed by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), who served for over two decades in the Naval Reserve. "Paying ransom to kidnappers puts Americans even more at risk. While Americans were relieved by Iran's overdue release of illegally imprisoned American hostages, the White House's policy of appeasement has led Iran to illegally seize more American hostages, including Siamak Namazi, his father Baquer Namazi, and Reza Shahini," he said.
The senators' comments seem to be backed by comments on Iranian state media by a high-ranking commander of the Basij, an Iranian militia force, who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, "Taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies."
Since the first payment in January, the three Americans mentioned in Senator Kirk's statement have reportedly been seized by the Khameni regime, leading some to speculate as to whether or not Iran is seeking leverage to force the release of other frozen assets. One portion of those assets, $2 billion frozen in 2009, was awarded to the victims of Iranian-sponsored attacks in a case that was finally resolved by the Supreme Court.