Obama Admin Delivered Property to Iran as Part of Secret Détente

Iran demanded return of precious artifacts, billions in U.S. funds

John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry / AP
March 23, 2016

The Obama administration has been shipping historical artifacts to Iran since last year as part of a secret détente that also included a taxpayer-funded payment of nearly $2 billion, according to a letter written by the State Department and exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Obama administration officials engaged in secret talks with Iran between June 2014 through at least January 2015 over a series of legal claims leveled against the United States by the Islamic Republic, the State Department disclosed in its letter.

"These discussions led to the settlement of claims for architectural drawings, which are now in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, and for fossils, which are now in the possession of Iran’s Ministry of the Environment, and the parties also discussed the possibility of broader settlements," the State Department wrote, in response to an inquiry launched in January by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.).

The Obama administration is seeking further settlements with Tehran to transfer assets, according to the State Department.

The administration’s latest admission about the backroom dealings with Iran were offered in response to a broader inquiry launched by Pompeo, who is seeking further information about the Obama administration’s payment of $1.7 billion in taxpayer funds to Iran, which many viewed as a "ransom payment" for Iran’s release of several U.S. hostages in January.

The administration’s official response to Pompeo was sent earlier this week, just days after a Free Beacon report detailing a months-long State Department effort to stall the lawmaker's inquiry.

"After nearly two months of stalling, the State Department confirmed what I feared was true: the Obama administration is negotiating behind closed doors with the Islamic Republic of Iran and using taxpayer dollars to pay the regime," Pompeo said in a statement on the letter. "Worse yet, more of these payments are likely coming."

"Secretary Kerry still refuses to answer whether the $1.7 billion U.S. payment to Iran was related to the release of American hostages held by Iran," Pompeo continued. "While we celebrate the return of these hostages, this administration could be setting a dangerous precedent, as innocent Americans continue to be held in Iran. I will not stop until we have all of the answers and will do all in my power to stop the Obama administration’s dangerous Iran policy."

Iran recently renewed its desire to settle a series of longstanding legal disputes with the United States, according to the letter, which outlines at least two occasions in 2014 and early 2015 when talks took place.

This agreement paved the way for the United States and Iran to reach the $1.7 billion settlement over the breakdown on a decades-old arms pact known as the U.S.-Iran Foreign Military Sales Program.

"With the settlements over the artworks and fossils concluded in December, and with hearings in the FMS claims involving the disposition of the Iranian Trust Fund of the horizon, we were able to achieve this most recent settlement, which finally resolves Iran’s claims for funds in the FMS Trust Fund, as well as its claims for interest on the funds for more than 35 years," the State Department wrote, using an acronym for the foreign military sales program.

However, many other claims remain unsettled and are being litigated by the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at the Hague.

The Obama administration is pursuing further settlement agreements with Iran. It is likely that at least part of these agreements will be paid using a taxpayer fund operated by the Treasury Department.

"The United States is continuing to vigorously litigate these claims at the Tribunal, but is also open to discussing further settlements of claims with Iran, as we have done throughout the life of the Tribunal, with the aim of resolving them in furtherance of U.S. interests," the letter states.

These settlements could arise from a large number of outstanding legal disputes that the United States would rather settle in private with Iran than see litigated by the Hague.

"There remain some large claims pending before the Tribunal, many of which are against the United States," the State Department wrote. "They include Iran’s contract claims arising under the former FMS program. These fact-indecisive claims involve over 1,000 separate contracts between Iran and the United States. The partial settlement we achieved in January … was part of that case."

In addition to outstanding claims about the failed military deal, "Iran also has claims for the alleged U.S. failure to transfer property that was blocked following the 1979 hostage crisis, the return of the former Shah’s assets, and the return of Iran’s diplomatic property," according to the letter.

When asked Wednesday to provide further information on the recent transfer of the artwork and fossils to Iran, a State Department official who was not authorized to speak on record told the Free Beacon that the claims date back to the 1970s, before Iran’s Islamic revolution ushered in its current hardline government.

"A claim was brought before the Tribunal related to various pieces of artwork Iran contracted to purchase prior to 1979 but which were never delivered to Iran," the official said. "That claim has now been resolved and the specific pieces of artwork have been transferred to Iran. The same goes for a set of fossils which had been sent to the United States prior to 1979 for studies and were returned to Iran."