Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., told the Washington Examiner Wednesday, “Just as I feared, the Iranian regime now has more American hostages and wants more money. The Obama administration’s $1.7 billion cash payment to Iran wasn’t just bad policy — it put additional lives at risk. … Iran should release all American hostages immediately and unconditionally.”
It should be noted that threatened to veto Royce’s bill to bar additional “ransom payments.”
Lebanese citizen and permanent resident of the United States, Nizar Zakka, was imprisoned in Iran for over a year and was was sentenced to 10 years in Iranian prison on charges of spying, last month. Through his attorney, Zakka said that he was told by Iranian officials that it would take from the U.S. to win his release, and that he will remain in prison until the payment is received.
Many Republicans, including Royce, have argued that the Obama administration gave an incentive to Iran via the $400 million cash payment to Iran in January in order to ensure the release of four American hostages, along with a $1.3 billion cash payment just days later.
The administration said that that the payment was unrelated to the hostages’ release. It was paid to resolve a longstanding dispute over money Iran had paid to the U.S. to buy jets, which didn’t happen, once the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979. However, officials admit that the payment was delayed to gain leverage in the hostage negotiations.
Republicans fear that the decision will lead to more hostage situations.
Former Chair of the House Foreign Affairs panel, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said that the prisoners held in Iran are “pawns in a dangerous game as Iran continues to use the nuclear deal as leverage to extract more and more concessions from the U.S.” She told the Examiner, “The obvious consequence of paying ransom to terrorists is that you have just demonstrated that hostage taking can be financially beneficial. The administration and all responsible nations must take a stand and take immediate action to secure the unconditional release of all hostages and put an end to Iran’s repeated violations of human rights.”
“The Obama administration’s view of the $1.7 billion in cash payment matters far less than what the Iranians think about it,” said Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “What was more important to ask is whether the Iranians viewed it that way [as a ransom payment], and now, it appears clear that they do.” Schanzer said that the nuclear deal between Tehran, Washington, and other world powers, has not fully yielded the benefits Iran was expecting, as foreign investment in Iran has been slow to materialize. “Global banks harbor lingering concerns about the risks associated with Iran’s ongoing support for terrorism and other illicit financial activities,” he said, and added, ”Demands for ransom will hardly assuage their fears.”