The Obama administration disclosed to Congress on Tuesday that it transferred a total of $1.7 billion in cash through Swiss banks to Iran around the time American hostages were released this year, about four times the amount originally disclosed to the public
The news was delivered by the State, Defense and Treasury Departments in a private briefing to congressional staff who went into the meeting thinking they were learning more detail about the $400 million in payments originally reported in the news media.
A source directly familiar with the briefing, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said the money was sent to Iran via Swiss banks on three dates; Jan, 17, Jan. 19 and Jan. 22.
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The payments coincided with the release of a handful of American prisoners from Iran, including a Washington Post reporter.
“The cash payments were four times what has been disclosed and they went through Swiss banks on their way to the Iranians.” The U.S. officials who briefed congressional staff suggested the payments were all made in cash because Iran was desperate for foreign currency after years of Western sanctions, according to one source.
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“They said the payments needed to be viewed in the political context. First the Iranian nuclear deal was going through, second the Iranian economy was in a difficult state and third the Iranians were in need of foreign currency,” one source said.
When pressed to say who requested the cash, the briefers could not remember, the source said.
State Dept. reverses course
The Obama administration originally denied the $400 million payment disclosed earlier this summer had anything to do with the hostages, even though it was delivered by plane the same day as their release.But as pressure mounted for an explanation, the State Department reversed course last month and admitted the payment was timed as “leverage” to get the hostages out of Iran.The briefing Tuesday was to staff of the House national security committee plus House leaders.
The $1.7 billion total involved $400 million in long-disputed cash that were frozen in a trust fund years ago and $1.3 billion in interest payments, according to one source.
While the total mount the U.S. might eventually pay was generally known, the fact that all of it was paid around the release of the hostages and in cash moved through Swiss banks surprised congressional staff, the source said. source