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Flashback: The US covertly shipped $400 million to Iran on the same day it released American prisoners

Andrew Trunsky, DCNF

Five years before Iranian state television said that the United States would send the country $7 billion in exchange for four Americans held in the country, former President Barack Obama’s administration sent Iran $400 million as it released other Americans in detention.

Iranian state television reported Saturday that four Americans accused of spying in the country would be released if the U.S. freed $7 billion in frozen oil funds. The U.S., however, has denied the report.

“Unfortunately, that report is untrue,” Ron Klain, President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, told CBS News’ Face the Nation. “There is no agreement to release these four Americans.”

It is not the first time the U.S. has been accused of paying Iran for the release of American prisoners. In 2016, the Obama administration covertly shipped wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies totaling $400 million to the country, with timing that coincided with the release of four Americans that were detained in Tehran.

The administration claimed that the timing was purely coincidental, and that it was the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement following an arms deal that fell through following the Iranian Revolution in 1979. It added that it did not, and would not, pay ransom for the release of American hostages.

“Sometimes the Iranians want cash because it’s so hard for them to access things in the international financial system,” an anonymous U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the payment.

The payment also occurred just months after the U.S., Iran and several American allies had finalized the landmark nuclear deal, from which the U.S. withdrew in 2018 under former President Donald Trump.

“With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” Obama said in January 2016, though he did not disclose the $400 million payment.

Biden has said that he is open to rejoining the 2015 deal, and talks between the U.S., Iran and European allies began in April in Vienna, Austria.

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