U.S. Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew on Monday defended the $1.7 billion cash payment to Iran as the quickest method to pay off a settlement reached between the two countries.
“In a world where you’ve cut Iran off of much of the global financial system, they wanted to be paid quickly – which is not unusual when there is a settlement – and cash was the method that was chosen,” Lew said during a question-and-answer session at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC, on Monday. “I think that the issue is the same whether it was a wire transfer or cash. It was a settlement that saved the American people billions of dollars, and it resolved a long-standing legal dispute.”
“Separately, there was a negotiation to have Americans brought home,” he continued. “The fact that these things all happened at the same time is in part because the doorway to the discussions was opened at the same time.”
In a briefing to congressional officials last week, the Obama administration acknowledged that it had made two additional cash payments totaling $1.3 billion, after delivering $400 million to Iran by plane in January, to resolve a failed arms deal. “As we announced at the beginning of this year and was widely reported at the time, the United States in January agreed to pay Iran $1.7 billion to settle a long-standing legal claim at the Hague,” Dawn Selak, a spokesperson for the Treasury Department said. “The form of those principal and interest payments — made in non-U.S. currency, in cash — was necessitated by the effectiveness of U.S. and international sanctions regimes over the last several years in isolating Iran from the international financial system.”
Republicans pounced on the administration, claiming the U.S. has turned Iran into a world power by paying ransom in return for the release of U.S. hostages. They also blasted the Iran nuclear deal anew after reports emerged that Iran was secretly allowed to evade certain restrictions in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) so that it could begin receiving sanctions relief.
Speaking on Monday, Lew suggested that the Iran deal and the economic sanctions that followed has done more to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon than any other action that the U.S. could have taken.
“Americans should be glad that we have a nuclear agreement with Iran. They should be relieved that a lawsuit that could have meant billions of dollars is settled. And they should be happy that, separately, Americans who wanted to come home were able to come home,” Lew concluded.
Lew also addressed recent North Korean nuclear missile tests. “We’re not taking any option off the table,” he said. “We continue to review constantly what are options are to put more effective pressure on North Korea, but one of the things in sanctions generally that I’ve given a lot of thought to and I think is going to be incumbent on whoever is the steward of our sanctions program is getting the balance right between multilateral and unilateral action. If you go it alone and don’t have the cooperation of the world, it could look tougher, but perhaps have less impact. You need to have the cooperation of the global community to have maximum impact. That doesn’t mean you take any of your unilateral options off the table, but getting the mix right.”
“North Korea is an enormous challenge. We are going to do everything we can to try and keep the pressure on North Korea. It’s unacceptable for North Korea to have a nuclear weapon,” he added.