So President Trump bombed Syria’s Shayrat air force base on April 7 with 59 cruise missiles. Compare and contrast with President Obama’s “bombing” of Tehran in January, 2016, with pallet-loads of European banknotes totalling $US1.7b. There was $400 million in Swiss franc notes and $1.3b in Euro notes.
Obama had organized the swap of US government dollars for the banknotes. He had a technical difficulty with the $1.3 billion because a long-standing US government rule limited payout to $1 billion. So he used his initiative and split his $1.3b request into 13 separate requests of $99,999,999.99 and a top-up of $10,390,236.28.
The pallets of banknotes materialized at Geneva airport on January 3 ($400 million in francs), and January 22 and February 5 ($1.3b in Euros – some accounts say that other hard-currency notes were included). Each time, the treasure was ushered into a waiting, unmarked Iranian cargo plane. The plane took the money to Tehran and only the Iranians know where it went thereafter. Let us hope not on weapons and salaries for terrorists.
It’s a racy story but what’s it all about? It’s about a weekend’s work by Obama on January 16-17, 2016, where he consummated the anti-nuclear pact with Iran, did a prisoner swap of four Americans in Iran for seven Iranian-American sanctions-violators in the US, and settled a debt to Iran dating back to 1979 when the populace overthrew Shah Pahlavi. All three aspects involve murky stuff which has gradually trickled into the public domain, and which I’ll try to explain.
Obama’s main goal (jointly with five other world powers) was to thwart Iran’s rapid progress to the nuclear-bomb club.
In brief, Iran signed up that weekend to switching its deeply-buried Fordo nuclear plant to “a centre for science research”; to making its Arak plutonium-capable plant inoperable; and to halving its U235 bomb-capable uranium centrifuges at Natanz from 10,000 to 5,000. Enrichment is to stop at 3.7%, compared with the current 20% (bomb-capable is 90%). It has also promised to cap its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 300kg (insufficient for an A-bomb upgrade) for 15 years.
Great stuff, but even the Obama-loving New York Times expressed concern that Iran would make monkeys out of the International Atomic Energy Agency scrutineers, given “Iran’s history of evasions, stonewalling and illicit procurements.” But assuming Iran behaves itself, the US will lift sanctions against arms sales in five years, and sales of ballistic missiles in eight years.
The Iran legislators and their street mobs have responded to the nuclear deal by retaining their No 1 slogan of “Death to America!” and re-iterating their ambition to nuke Israel as soon as feasible.
The Israeli government rated the Iran deal as a repeat of Munich in 1938, a licence for a second Holocaust, and a sop to a global terrorism. It repeated these views last August, when Obama claimed, improbably,
“Israeli military and security community acknowledges this [deal] has been a game changer…The country that was most opposed to the deal. By all accounts, it has worked exactly the way we said it was going to work.”
In reality, Iran the previous year had violated a 2010 Security Council resolution banning it from nuclear-capable missile tests. It did a further missile test in January, 2017, which exploited a loophole in a successor Security Council resolution. The update inexplicably changed the wording from “shall not” test nuclear-capable missiles (emphatic) to Iran being “called upon” not to test such missiles (translation: utter, non-binding waffle).
The next issue is why the US owed Iran $1.7b. During Shah Pahlavi’s US-backed regime, he paid in advance for purchases of US military gear but was overthrown by the populace in February 1979. The Democrat’s President Jimmy Carter chose not to deliver the arms – including part-built destroyers – to the new anti-US regime, but kept the cash.
Iran’s leaders in November 1979 permitted the invasion and plundering of the US Embassy in Teheran by an organised mob, a reprisal for the US giving the deposed Shah asylum for heart treatment. The regime then held hostage 52 US diplomats and citizens for 444 days. Obviously, The US could have walked away from its debt.
But President Carter compounded the crisis in April, 1980, with his disastrous decision to send 100-plus special forces to storm the embassy and rescue the hostages. At the troops’ first staging post in the night-time Iranian desert, amid logistical bungles, one of the helicopter fleet collided with a C-130 freighter. Eight airmen were killed and the mission precipitately aborted, leaving helicopters behind for use by the Iranian air force. In the debacle’s wake, Carter in the November 1980 election lost to the Republican’s Ronald Reagan. Carter’s bungling left him open to Iranian blackmail.  Minutes after Carter’s term ended on January 20, 1981, the Iranians released the hostages, but on Iran’s own financial terms.
Last year – 35 years later – it was déjà vu on hostages (or prisoners – the distinction is politically important). The four alleged US spies included The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief (grabbed in 2015), a former marine and a pastor.
US law forbids official ransom payments for US captives.  This makes sense – otherwise it would be open season for kidnappers. Obama insisted that the prisoner swap was entirely separate from the initial payment to Iran of $400m on the same day, which was merely settlement of the old 1979 debt.
Republicans, including Trump, accused Obama of illegally paying ransom. They argued that the prisoner release by Iran was in fact conditional on the cash materialising. Cue liberal media outrage. But the facts back Trump more than Obama.
Evidence for “ransom”:
- Justice Department top officials (cited by the Wall Street Journal and including the head of the national security division, Obama-appointee John Carlin) objected to Obama’s weekend deal because it would be viewed, by Iran especially, as a ransom payment. Justice was over-ruled by the State Department.
- One of the US prisoners in Iran, Catholic pastor Saeed Abedini, said on Fox News that he’d been told at Mehrabad Airport by a police officer that the 20-hour delay in their take-off via a Swiss plane had been because ‘We are waiting for another plane, so if that plane doesn’t come, we never let [you] go.’
- Conversely, the Americans wouldn’t permit the money plane to depart Geneva until the prisoners were aloft, according to the WSJ (paywalled). Obama’s team continued to insist that the cash and the swap were organized by separate diplomatic channels in both the US and Iran. However, officials did concede that Iran wanted a ransom-like form of words so that its citizens wouldn’t think the alleged US spies were being released with no benefit to Iran.
- # The clincher – after such strenuous official denials – was last August 18 in a report by The New York Times. It quoted John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, briefing on August 13 that the US “took advantage of the [cash] leverage” it felt it had that weekend in mid-January to obtain the release of the hostages and “to make sure they got out safely and efficiently.”
Next issue is the reason for the money deal being in foreign cash. US law forbids US-dollar payments to Iran. So Obama’s team deposited the $400m capital debt in dollars with the Swiss National Bank, which organised the Geneva payout to Iran in francs.
Sounds a bit dodgy, eh? More so, in respect of the $1.3b interest. That required sign-off by the US Treasury guardians of the government’s “Judgement Fund” after verifying a host of conditions. These included that the payment serves the US best interests. In particular, amounts over $1b are not allowed. So guess what, the Obama team split the $1.3b into 13 separate tranches of $99,999,999.99 and a top-up of $10,390,236.28. This extraordinary payment schedule went to the Dutch National Bank which disbursed it in Euros to an official of the Bank of Iran.
On the January 17 Sunday, Obama mentioned the financial settlement with Iran but didn’t give figures. He merely described the settlement as a terrific discount for the US compared with what the Hague international court on debts might have in future specified.
Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, in a press conference the same day, did mention the amounts. But neither mentioned cash airlifts of foreign banknotes.
The mainstream media had bigger fish to fry concerning the nuclear agreement and the prisoner-swap. It was not until seven months later, in August, that the payment issue and its many weirdnesses blew up electorally.
The Obama team’s obfuscation and somersaults were treated with respectful tolerance by most of the liberal media. The affair got scant coverage in Australia, especially as it messed with Obama’s halo.
The mainstream media narrative today is that Obama brought the US sound, scandal-free government, while Trump is wrecking the joint. In just one example here described, Obama’s Iran nuclear deal has not only exposed Israel to a new order of nuclear hazard, but was accompanied by financial shiftiness on a billion-dollar scale and a miasma of half-truths and cover-ups.
Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable, is available here.
‘ The quote-marks serve the same purpose as Trump’s twitter claim on March 4, with quote-marks, that Obama had “wire tapped” him in Trump Tower. We are not being literal.
 A retired Australian senior bureaucrat comments, “Breaking up a transaction into smaller components to avoid regulatory oversight is one of the oldest tricks in the books. Our Department of Finance would go berserk if that were tried here, even for chicken-feed amounts. Our Auditor General would also go for the jugular.”
 That re-write was a companion to the new nuclear deal’s framework, but not part of it.
 It was supposed to be put in an interest-bearing account for Iran, but this was not done.
 The original debt was more than $400m but George H.W. Bush repaid $200m in 1990.
 The Iranians had even threated to execute the hostages as spies.
 The US did relax the ban somewhat in 2015 by saying it wouldn’t prosecute relatives who made ransom payments.
 Much as the facts in Sweden have backed his recent Twitter claim of dire Muslim problems there. Car-torching riots a night or two later, a Stockholm truck terror rampage last week with 19 casualties. Not that all his tweets are rational.
 According to the Obama team, Iran wanted $10b, the adjudication was likely to award $4b, and the actual private settlement of $1.7b was thus a bargain.
 The trigger was a leak from a congressional aide who’d been in a briefing with Obama officials.