What does America owe Iran? Israel Hayom, Clifford D. May, August 11, 2016
An unmarked cargo plane filled with $400 million in cash lands in Tehran, and four American hostages held by Iran’s rulers are set free. These revelations have sparked two controversies.
First: Did the Obama administration pay a ransom to Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism? White House spokesmen insist it did not and there was no quid pro quo, while Iranian officials say that was precisely what happened. Who is more credible? More importantly, whom do you think prospective hostage-takers around the world believe?
Second: Did this payment violate American law? Justice Department officials opposed the payment. Former federal terrorism prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy argued that the transaction involved the commission of several “felony law violations.” Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey opines that while the transaction was not “right,” it was not illegal.
The roots of this affair run deep. In early 1979, the shah of Iran, as part of an arrangement to purchase jet fighters, deposited $400 million into a Pentagon account. Soon afterward, he was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution. As White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “Once the revolution took place, obviously that equipment was not transferred, but we also didn’t return Iran’s money.”
Return the money to whom? At what point does the property of a government that has been toppled become the rightful possession of those who have done the toppling? International law is murky on this matter, as it is on many matters.
One thing we can say with reasonable certainty: Had envoys representing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini reached out to President Jimmy Carter, he would have done whatever was in his power to establish amicable relations.
But that did not happen. We know what did: On Nov. 4, 1979, followers of the supreme leader seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 diplomats hostage. The diplomats were held and, in many cases, tortured for 444 days. That such conduct violates international law — indeed, that it constitutes an act of war — is not a matter for legal debate. The hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981, the day President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.
Iran’s rulers have never apologized, much less compensated their victims. The Weekly Standard’s Lee Smith reports that President Bill Clinton considered using the $400 million to pay victims of Iranian terrorism who had won judgments against Iran in U.S. courts. In the end, however, he left it to American taxpayers to pick up the check. President George W. Bush could have reimbursed the Treasury using frozen Iranian funds. He did not.
There matters lay until, in January of this year, President Barack Obama boasted that thanks to “strong American diplomacy,” the United States and Iran “are now settling a long-standing Iranian government claim against the United States government and Iran will be returned its own funds, including appropriate interest, but much less than the amount that Iran sought.”
Note that the president neglected to mention claims against Iran. And shouldn’t there be some controversy over the notion of “appropriate interest” — which is how the $400 million “owed” to Iran rose to the $1.7 billion that is being paid?
Since the money was not loaned to the U.S. by Iran’s current regime, why should the assumption be that the U.S. invested it for the benefit of Iran’s current regime? As part of this hostage deal, the U.S. also freed seven Iranians charged or convicted of crimes and dropped extradition requests for 14 others. How much is that worth? Why does that not count as “interest”?
Surely, justice would have been better served had the shah’s funds been distributed to Iran’s many victims: the diplomats who were illegally imprisoned, to be sure, but also the families of those murdered on Iran’s orders, such as those in Beirut in 1983, at Khobar towers in 1996, and more recently in Iraq by Shiite militias armed and instructed by Tehran.
In addition, thousands of innocent Iranians were put to death by the leaders of the Islamic Revolution. Tens of thousands were forced to flee the country, and their businesses, homes, lands, and bank accounts were stolen by the regime. Why have these victims been forgotten?
Here is part of the reason: Carter, during his final days in office, negotiated the Algiers Accord, agreeing that in exchange for the release of the hostages, Iran’s new rulers would be granted immunity from criminal or civil penalties.
Congress did not approve the Algiers Accord, which was not a treaty but only an executive agreement. President Reagan could have revoked it, pointing out that his predecessor had negotiated it with a knife at his throat — or, more precisely, with knives at the throats of the hostages. But he did not.
Instead, in 1981, pursuant to the Algiers Accord, the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal was set up in The Hague. This international arbitration mechanism has further entrenched the perverse notion of moral equivalence between the United States and the Islamic republic.
It has led to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry attempting to satisfy Iran’s “claims” against the U.S. against the backdrop of the Iran deal, another executive agreement. Obama considers that deal vital to his legacy. By contrast, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made it plain that he is more than willing to walk away from the deal — and will should the river of American concessions not continue to flow.
So last week’s hostages-for-cash story turns out to be only one chapter in a long and sad saga. It should give rise to additional controversies, starting with this: Why are Iran’s negotiators so consistently more skillful than America’s?