Carter: Obama did not inform military command of cash payments to Iran

by WorldTribune Staff, September 23, 2016

U.S. President Barack Obama did not consult with his top military leaders before sending $400 million in cash to Iran earlier this year on the day four American hostages were released, a report said.

During a Sept. 22 Senate Armed Services Committee meeting, in response to a question from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz about the cash payment, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford “weren’t involved in this.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, and Gen. Joseph Dunford. /Getty Images
Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, and Gen. Joseph Dunford. /Getty Images

“I don’t know all the details of it, and the chairman and I were not involved in that. It is a decision that was taken by the law enforcement and diplomatic and I would refer you there.”

Some were surprised at Carter’s remarks, given the State Department had earlier said that “every relevant” agency was consulted on the payment.

It is also hard for some to believe military brass were kept out of the loop given Iran “is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and terrorists prefer cash to wire payments because it’s so difficult to track … and its armed forces have both directly and indirectly threatened the U.S. military in the Middle East,” a Bloomberg report on Sept. 22 said.

When Dunford was asked about the cash payments, he responded: “I am not trying to be evasive but I don’t know the details of that arrangement and it really was a political decision that was made to provide that money and I don’t think it’s appropriate that I comment on that.”

Christopher Sherwood, a press officer at the Pentagon, told Bloomberg the payment “was worked out through the administration. The Department of Defense had nothing to do with that.”

Previously, the State Department had said the decision to send the cash to Iran went through an inter-agency process. “There’s always an inter-agency discussion around any decision like this, and every relevant agency weighs in.” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said on Aug. 4.

Recent reports also suggest that at least some lawmakers were not consulted about other payments to Iran. The Weekly Standard reported that key members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including its chairman Sen. Bob Corker, were not told about wire payments to Iran, even after Obama last month said the U.S. had to send cash because such wire payments were not possible. Politico reported this week that the U.S. had been wiring cash to Iranian banks long before the cash payments were flown to Iran.

“The disclosure is also the latest example of how U.S. military leaders have been distancing themselves” from Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East policy, the Bloomberg report said. “Senior military leaders could barely disguise their opposition to Kerry’s latest cease-fire plan for Syria, which would have resulted in the U.S. cooperating with Russia to select bombing targets had a cessation of hostilities held for a week. It didn’t.”

Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 22 that the Pentagon had no plans to share any intelligence with Russia.

Obama’s keeping Carter and Dunford out of the loop on the payment also highlights a growing rift between the military and the White House. Since leaving office, all three of Obama’s prior defense secretaries have talked publicly about their frustrations with the White House.

“Robert Gates, who was Obama’s first secretary of defense, wrote a scathing memoir where he complained about being ordered around by senior White House staff. Leon Panetta, who headed the Pentagon between 2011 and 2013, told the New York Times Magazine earlier this year that he never saw the letters Obama sent to Iran’s Supreme Leader, when he served as CIA director or secretary of defense. Panetta’s successor, Chuck Hagel, told Foreign Policy last December that he believed the White House had set out to destroy him,” the Bloomberg report said.

Meanwhile, the GOP-led House on Sept. 22 approved legislation to prohibit the United States from making cash payments to Iran and require that Congress be notified before any future claims settlements with Teheran are conducted.

The bill passed by a 254-163 margin.

“Cash does not leave a paper trail,” said the bill’s sponsor, California Republican Rep. Ed Royce. “Cash is the currency of terror.”

An initial $400 million payment in euros, Swiss francs and other foreign currency was delivered on pallets on Jan. 17, the same day Teheran agreed to release the prisoners. Another $1.3 billion was paid in cash installments made on Jan. 22 and Feb. 5.