White House press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged Wednesday that Iran might be using the secret $400 million payment it received from the United States — the same day the country released four American prisoners — to sponsor terrorist organizations.
The White House has denied that the payment was a ransom, instead stating it was the “first installment of the $1.7 billion in the United States seized in 1979 after an arms deal with the Shah of Iran was halted following the Islamic revolution.”
Speaking a press briefing, Earnest was asked if the administration knows how Iran has used that “pile of cash.”
“First of all, it’s Iranian money,” he stated. “And I think what is true from all of the money Iran has received since January — including from sanctions relief … the analysis that we’ve done confirms what we predicted.”
“Largely, that money was spent to address the dire situation of the nation of Iran.”
“The president was quite forward-leaning in advance of the deal being completing in acknowledging that we know that Iran supports terrorism,” Earnest added. “We know that Iran supports Hezbollah and the Assad regime, and it certainly is possible that some of the money Iran has is being used for those purposes too. That’s precisely why this administration on the front end has been deepening our engagement with our partners in the Middle East to counter those activities.”
In the same context, and according to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., this transaction could enable Iran to more easily fund groups like Hezbollah since hard cash is the regime’s preferred way of financing terrorism.
“If you’re going to have a transaction, the last thing you want to do with Iran … is to give that to them in unmarked bills, in hard currency, in Swiss francs,” Royce told Fox News on Thursday.
The concern adds to the growing complaints on Capitol Hill about the payment, which critics have decried as “ransom” as it coincided with the release of four Americans from Iranian custody.
The Obama administration denies this and insists the payment and the prisoner release were entirely separate.
But no matter the relation between the two, Royce voiced serious doubts Thursday about assurances from the White House that the money would be spent on roads and bridges.
“I can guarantee, the money’s not going for infrastructure … Where do you think the money goes when you give them unmarked bills and they’re the number one sponsor of terrorism in the region?” Royce asked.
“The primary state sponsor of terrorism — the number one international concern is to not have these kinds of transactions in cash. That’s how they pay Hezbollah. That’s how they pay their fighters,” he added.