The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

House passes bill rebuking ‘ransom’ payments to Iran

The House of Representatives passed a bill late Thursday to prohibit cash payments to Iran. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

The House passed a bill Thursday to outlaw cash payments to Iran, in a rebuke of the Obama administration’s decision to send Tehran what Republicans charge was “ransom” on the same day American prisoners were released.

The 254 to 163 vote, which fell nearly along party lines, comes as lawmakers are making a final push toward the campaign trail, where Republicans bet their wholesale rejection of President Obama’s deals with Iran will play big with voters.

Thursday’s measure is just the latest in a series of steps Republican House leaders have taken to decry the administration’s pursuit of the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran their members opposed, as well as the circumstances surrounding its implementation.

Lately, the GOP has focused on a $400 million cash payment the United States sent to Iran on the same day in January that the deal was implemented and several American prisoners, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, were released. The money was to settle Iran’s claim before an international tribunal that the United States owed it $400 million, plus interest, in funds set aside to pay for military weapons that were never delivered following the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Earlier this month, administration officials said in a closed-door congressional briefing that they had also paid $1.3 billion of interest in two additional cash tranches sent to Iran on Jan. 22 and Feb. 5, according to aides present.

Republicans seek to censure Obama administration on $400 million ‘ransom’ to Iran

Republican leaders in Congress and on the campaign trail — including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump — have seized on the simultaneous timing of the $400 million payment and the release of prisoners, arguing that makes it clear that the cash payments were a “ransom.” State Department officials insist the payments were delayed to ensure they would have “leverage” to secure the release of the prisoners.

The House-passed measure is a continuation of that fight. It would prohibit the United States from paying Iran cash of any kind going forward, and states that it is U.S. policy “not to pay ransom or release prisoners” to secure the release of Americans abroad.

It also requires that the administration give Congress at least 30 days’ advance notice before conducting any transactions to settle other claims before the international tribunal set up to resolve disputes between Iran and the United States. As part of that notice, the bill requires that the administration provide a justification for any payments and certify that they do not constitute “ransom.”

The measure also instructs the administration to advise and update Congress on the list of outstanding claims before the tribunal.

The administration has already threatened to veto the measure.

In their explanation of the threat, administration officials argued that the measure would effectively make it impossible to settle any outstanding claims with Iran. Congressional Democrats have also insisted that the administration had to send Tehran cash payments because strict sanctions against Iran made it functionally impossible to use the traditional banking system.

Republicans have pushed back at that reasoning, arguing the administration relied on wire transfers to purchase heavy water from Iran as part of a deal announced in the spring.