Congresswoman Martha Roby

Representing the 2nd District of Alabama

Behavior Toward Iran Baffling

September 23, 2016
Representative Roby's Weekly Column

As more details surface about the Obama Administration’s decision to pay Iran $1.7 billion in settlement money, arguments that it was anything less than an ill-conceived ransom deal are becoming pretty flimsy. 

In January, President Obama announced the United States had reached a settlement with Iran over a decades-long arms deal dispute, in which $1.7 billion would be transferred from a Treasury fund set up to cover court judgments and settlements. Even though the deal directly coincided with Iran’s release of five Americans it was holding hostage, the President and other Administration officials repeatedly denied that this deal was a ransom payment. 

However, such denials proved phony when, in August, The Wall Street Journal reported in stunning detail how the first installment actually took place. "Wooden palletes stacked with Euros, Swiss francs, and other foreign currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plan,” the story said. The plane reportedly sat on the tarmac until U.S. officials confirmed the release of American hostages. That’s pretty much the definition of a ransom. 

Why does it matter? Because paying a ransom would violate long-standing U.S. policy, including President Obama’s own. Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 30, released by the White House in June 2015, states that “It is United States policy to deny hostage-takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes, or other acts of concession.”

Why is it important for our country not to pay ransoms? Because it endangers Americans. As the PPD goes on to say, 

“This policy protects U.S. nationals and strengthens national security by removing a key incentive for hostage-takers to target U.S. nationals, thereby interrupting the vicious cycle of hostage-takings, and by helping to deny terrorists and other malicious actors the money, personnel, and other resources they need to conduct attacks against the United States, its nationals, and its interests.”

Almost as if to prove this point, since the cash shipment, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has detained two more Iranian-Americans, according to The Wall Street Journal. And why wouldn’t they, seeing as how Iran’s military will now apparently be the beneficiary of the $1.7 billion influx from the United States. Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he found this development “troubling” because it would enable Iran’s military to spread “malign influence.” Unfortunately, President Obama did not consult with Gen. Dunford - his top uniformed military commander - or Secretary of Defense Ash Carter about the payment scheme before this critical decision was made. 

These latest revelations have prompted Congress to act. This week the House passed H.R. 5931, the Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act, which essentially codifies into law the policy against ransom payments. I wish it wasn’t necessary to enact a new law in order to stop a president from executing foreign transactions that go against long-standing policies put in place to protect Americans. However, given President Obama’s baffling behavior toward Iran, Congressional action is absolutely necessary.