“Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013, and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash,” Trump said at the White House. “Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they chanted ‘Death to America.’ … Then Iran went on a terror spree funded by the money from the deal and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Then Trump turned to Obama again: “The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.”
It wasn’t an altogether new claim from Trump — Trump said last week on Facebook that “Iran will be shooting at our soldiers with bullets, etc., purchased with the $150 billion Obama gave them” — but it was a striking inclusion in this venue. Here was Trump on a day that is difficult to say was anything but encouraging for the United States. Much remains unsettled, but Iran responded to the killing of its most significant military commander with missile attacks on Iraqi bases that haven’t resulted in deaths of either Americans or Iraqis, according to the respective governments. Trump’s allies claimed victory, saying he had cowed the antagonistic Middle Eastern country.
Trump, though, opted to use the opportunity to settle old scores and accuse his predecessor of funding what the U.S. government has labeled as terrorism. Some Democrats immediately criticized him for it.
There are nuances with the money Iran got. The $150 billion is a false claim Trump has repeatedly made; it refers to funds already belonging to Iran that were unfrozen as part of the nuclear deal signed in 2013, and it’s on the very high end of estimates. Others suggest it’s closer to $25 or $50 billion.
As for the claim about $1.8 billion, despite Trump’s repeated suggestions that it was some kind of gift to Iran, the money was owed to Iran, thanks to a years-old settlement in an international court. Iran had purchased military equipment from the United States, but that equipment was never delivered because of tensions between the two countries in the late 1970s. (The amount was also estimated to be closer to $1.7 billion.)
Part of that money was delivered to Iran in controversial circumstances, with the Obama administration using it as leverage for freed hostages. It was likened to ransom, but it was money that Iran was owed.
As for whether either of those sums were used specifically on the missiles Iran used Tuesday night, there’s no way to know specifically.
The biggest takeaway, though, is that Trump used a moment that could have been unifying when it comes to the United States’ posture toward Iran to suggest his predecessor had helped arm our enemies.