February 3, 2016
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce is demanding answers from Secretary of State John Kerry on why the administration last month paid Iran a $1.7 billion settlement, which many Republicans have likened to a “ransom” payment tied to the recent release of American prisoners.
The administration contends the payment was made to settle long pending claim before an international tribunal in The Hague set up to resolve disputes between the United States and Iran in the wake of the hostage crisis spanning from 1979 to 1981.
But congressional Republicans have raised questions about its timing, arguing it coincided with the release of prisoners, including the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian, as well as the implementation date of the nuclear deal struck between Iran and world powers in July.
“The Department had ample opportunity to seek Congressional input on this matter,” Royce (R-Calif.) wrote Kerry on Wednesday. “Yet, it never raised this potential financial settlement with the Committee.”
Royce laid out a list of 10 questions he wants answered by Feb. 17, including the timing of the payment, why the funds weren’t first used “to compensate American victims of Iranian terrorism” and how the administration arrived at the sum that was paid out.
Royce also demanded a list of all individuals who participated in the various negotiations over the Iran deal, the release of the hostages and the settlement of the tribunal claim, as well as a list of all outstanding claims before the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in the Hague.
“I have a larger concern that in choosing to resolve this relatively minor bilateral dispute at this time, the Obama Administration is aggressively moving towards reestablishing diplomatic relations with Iran,” Royce wrote.
The United States and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980, after months of unfruitful negotiations to release hostages seized the year before. While other countries have taken steps to restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in the wake of the nuclear pact’s conclusion, the United States has given no public indication it intends to do the same.
Lawmakers from both parties have raised concerns about whether the administration is aggressively holding Tehran accountable for objectionable activities outside the parameters of the nuclear deal, including recent ballistic missile tests.
In the Senate, lawmakers on the Foreign Relations Committee are soon expected to release legislation that would elevate sanctions on such non-nuclear activities. Royce too, expressed doubts in his letter that the administration is committed to “countering the threat Iran poses to the United States and our allies in the region.”
Royce’s office decided to send the letter to Kerry after the administration did not respond to earlier inquiries.
The committee is also planning to question administration officials as part of an Iran hearing next Thursday. Witnesses have not been announced.
Karoun Demirjian covers defense and foreign policy and was previously a correspondent based in the Post’s bureau in Moscow, Russia. Before that, she reported for the Las Vegas Sun as its Washington Correspondent, the Associated Press in Jerusalem, the Chicago Tribune, Congressional Quarterly, and worked at NPR.