Former secretary of state John Kerry, who along with his wife Teresa Heinz is estimated to be worth $1 billion, on Friday referred to the $1.7 billion payment the United States made to Iran in 2016 as a "little bit of money."
Discussing President Donald Trump's claims that the Obama administration helped fund the Iranian regime's terror initiatives, Kerry told CNN that the Obama administration saved American taxpayers from accruing interest by settling old debt when it did.
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"We gave them a little bit of money that was released in that period of time, not as part of the nuclear arrangement," Kerry said. "But the fact is the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] had all the money it wanted. The IRGC wasn't starving at that point in time, and in fact, Iran owed billions upon billions of dollars. Most of that money went to pay off their debts and to facilitate their economic initiatives."
Kerry admitted in 2016 that the billions in sanctions relief Iran got under the nuclear deal would go partly to financing terrorism.
"Money is fungible in any budget," he said on Friday.
The Obama administration paid Iran $400 million, plus an additional $1.3 billion in interest from taxpayer funds, ostensibly to settle a dispute over military equipment Iran purchased but never received following the shah's fall in 1979. Critics, however, described the payment as a "ransom" to secure the freedom of American hostages being held by the Tehran regime.
"Obama officials are the last people on earth who are pretending that the $1.7 billion wasn't a ransom payment," one foreign policy consultant who worked with Congress on the nuclear deal told the Washington Free Beacon at the time. "Everyone else knows what happened, which is that we rewarded Iranian hostage takers."
The Obama administration denied the cash was a ransom, but the State Department later admitted it delayed the initial $400 million payment as "leverage" to secure the release of three prisoners held by Iran.
As part of the nuclear deal Kerry brokered, Iran received $150 billion in sanctions relief in the form of unfrozen assets held in banks around the globe. The U.S. Treasury Department estimated Iran had roughly $55 billion left over of that amount after fulfilling its other financial obligations, according to the Washington Post.
Iran is the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism, backing such proxy groups as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Tensions between the United States and Iran hit a boiling point after Trump last week ordered the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the terrorist leader of the IRGC's elite Quds Force. Iran retaliated with missile attacks on U.S. air bases in Iraq this week, although no Americans were killed or injured.
The United States and its allies also say Iran is responsible for bringing down a Ukrainian airliner with a surface-to-air missile it fired during its onslaught against Iraq, killing all 176 aboard.