$400 Million Cash Payment to Iran Fuels Latest Campaign Dispute

WASHINGTON — A cash payment of $400 million delivered to Iran in January became part of the presidential campaign on Wednesday, as Donald J. Trump seized on the money transfer as a sign of what he called the administration’s failed foreign policy — prompting a forceful White House rejection.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said the payment to Iran was part of the resolution of a longstanding financial dispute between the two nations, and was delivered in cash on pallets because the two nations do not have a banking relationship.

Mr. Earnest also denounced the assertions from some Republicans that the $400 million in foreign currency delivered to Iran was a ransom for four Americans released at the time. He compared the statements from Republicans to those of conservatives in Iran who oppose the nuclear agreement.

The existence of the payment was disclosed in January, and Mr. Earnest dismissed a Wall Street Journal report on Wednesday about the details of the cash payment as a “six-month-old news story” that is being pushed by opponents of the president’s nuclear deal with Iran.

“It’s an indication of just how badly opponents of the Iran deal are struggling to justify their opposition to a successful deal,” Mr. Earnest said.

The report about the cash payments — $400 million in euros, Swiss francs and other currencies flown to Tehran on a cargo plane — quickly sparked condemnation from opponents of Mr. Obama’s Iran negotiations, especially among Republicans.

Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee for president, posted Wednesday on Twitter that the payments amount to a scandal for Mr. Obama and for Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and the Democratic nominee for president.

“Our incompetent Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was the one who started talks to give 400 million dollars, in cash, to Iran. Scandal!” Mr. Trump wrote.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has long been critical of the Iran nuclear deal, argued that the cash sent to Iran amounted to a ransom payment to get the detained Americans home.

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Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, talking to the media during a daily briefing at the White House on Wednesday.CreditManuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

“Obama administration sent plane load of cash to #Iran as ransom as part of deal on hostages. Just unreal,” Mr. Rubio wrote on Twitter.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said in a statement that the cash payment shows that the Iran nuclear deal “is nothing but a series of bribes and secret agreements that will do nothing to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear capability, yet will provide funding for their sponsorship of terrorism and encourage them to detain more of our citizens.”

Mr. Earnest angrily denounced those allegations as “a false claim that this is somehow a ransom payment” and repeatedly said: “Let me be clear, the United States does not pay ransom for hostages.”

He accused people like Mr. Rubio and Mr. Trump of seizing on the new details about the cash transfer to continue trying to undermine the nuclear agreement.

“They are once again in a position of making the same argument as hard-liners in Iran in an attempt to undermine the nuclear agreement,” Mr. Earnest said.

The dispute over the payment to Iran centers on a series of deals that emerged from negotiations between American diplomats and Iranian officials that culminated in announcements in January.

At the time, the United States announced a deal with Iran to limit its nuclear program, but it also announced separate agreements to release four Americans held in Iran, and a third agreement to resolve a longstanding claim by Iran over money held in United States banks.

The financial dispute involved money that Iran had sent to the United States in 1979 to purchase weapons. Those weapons were not delivered after the shah of Iran was overthrown, and the money was never returned to Iran, which had demanded in The Hague that they were owed the money, plus interest charges.

Mr. Obama has long argued — and Mr. Earnest repeated on Wednesday — that the agreements were separate, though they were part of an effort by the United States to capitalize on improving relations between the two nations.

On Wednesday, Mr. Earnest said that the news reports noting that the payments were made in cash did not bolster claims by critics that they amounted to a ransom payment.

“I understand the interest in details that make a more colorful story,” Mr. Earnest said. But he added: “Critics of the deal have lost this argument.”

Source: The New York Times. Date: August 3, 2016