The White House on Wednesday denied renewed accusations that it paid Iran ransom money for the release of four US prisoners.
Amid revelations that the US helped airlift US$400 million worth of Swiss francs and euros to Iran after a prisoner release, the White House insisted the two were not linked.
In January, five prisoners were released as Washington granted clemency to seven Iranians and withdrew arrest warrants for 14 others.
Within hours US President Barack Obama announced he had also agreed to repay US$1.7 billion owed to Tehran — one of a string of agreements that followed a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
The White House said it was returning cash from a 1970s Iranian military order that was not fulfilled because of the Islamic Revolution.
On Tuesday the Wall Street Journal reported that a chunk of that cash was loaded on wooden pallets and secretly airlifted to Iran in an unmarked cargo plane.
“This [US]$400 million is actually money that the Iranians had paid into a US account in 1979 as part of a transaction to procure military equipment,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Explaining the airlift, Earnest said “the fact of the matter is the United States does not have a banking relationship with Iran.”
Earnest denied accusations that a ransom was paid.
“It is against the policy of the United States to pay ransom for hostages,” he said.
Republicans criticized the arrangements.
“If true, this report confirms our longstanding suspicion that the administration paid a ransom in exchange for Americans unjustly detained in Iran,” US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said. “It would also mark another chapter in the ongoing saga of misleading the American people to sell this dangerous nuclear deal.”
“Yet again, the public deserves an explanation of the lengths this administration went to in order to accommodate the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Ryan said.
Republicans had alleged that Iran would use a sanctions windfall worth hundreds of billions of dollars to fund terrorism.
US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump issued a statement on what he called the “terror money airlift,” saying the money would “undoubtedly find its way into the hands of terrorists.”
Earnest pushed back on Republicans’ assertions.
“People who made that prediction were either badly misinformed or lying to the American public, and I’ll leave it to them to explain why their predictions didn’t come true,” he said.
The White House and independent experts have insisted the funds would be much less than Republicans predicted and most of the cash would have to be spent on fixing Iran’s economy.
“We know that Iran supports Hezbollah and the [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad regime, and it certainly is possible that some of the money that Iran has is being used for those purposes, too, but the bulk of the money we know has been going to shoring up their economic weakness, and that’s exactly what we predicted,” Earnest said. “They used that money to prop up their currency that had been significantly devalued by the sanctions regime.”
The House Oversight Committee on Wednesday requested in a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry that he testify before the panel about the “contemporaneous hostage release and cash delivery.”
The US Department of State said it had received the note and would respond.
VULNERABLE: Many women do not report sexual harassment by their landlord over fears they could lose the roof over their head, an expert said A growing number of landlords are asking tenants for sex in exchange for housing as COVID-19 lockdowns and job cuts have left many struggling to pay their rent, housing experts said. A survey by the National Fair Housing Alliance of more than 100 fair housing groups combating discrimination across the US found that 13 percent had seen an increase in sexual harassment complaints during the pandemic. “If I did not have sex with him, he was going to put me out,” one woman facing eviction by her property manager told the alliance in an podcast on its Web site. “As a single
‘OBVIOUS DIFFERENCE’: The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been researching bat coronaviruses to trace the SARS pathogen, which is 80 percent similar to SARS-CoV-2 The Chinese virology institute in the city where COVID-19 first emerged has three live strains of bat coronavirus on-site, but none match the new contagion wreaking havoc around the world, its director has said. Scientists think COVID-19 — which first emerged in Wuhan and has killed more than 340,000 people worldwide — originated in bats and could have been transmitted to people via another mammal. However, the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology told state broadcaster China Global Television Network that claims made by US President Donald Trump and others that the novel coronavirus could have escaped from the facility were
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES? An institute of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and a company are to be sanctioned over ‘human rights violations and abuses’ The US Department of Commerce on Friday said that it would sanction a Chinese government institute and eight companies over alleged human rights abuses against Uighurs and other minorities in China’s western Xinjiang region. “These nine parties are complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” the department said in a statement. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science and Aksu Huafu Textiles Co are to be sanctioned “for
SPACE RACE: The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp mission aims to land a robotic rover and put a probe into orbit around the planet China is targeting a July launch for its ambitious Mars mission, which includes landing a remote-controlled robot on the surface of the Red Planet, the company in charge of the project has said. Beijing has invested billions of dollars in its space program in an effort to catch up with its rival, the US, and affirm its status as a major world power. The Mars mission is among a number of new space projects China is pursuing, including putting Chinese astronauts on the moon and having a space station by 2022. Beijing had been planning the Mars mission for some time this year,