The U.S. government secretly airlifted $400 million in cash to Iran at the same time as the release in January of four Americans detained in the Islamic Republic, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
The report cites U.S. and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the operation after it was completed.
The money, in euros, Swiss francs and other currencies, was flown to Iran stacked on wooden pallets. It had been procured from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland, according to the report.
The money was part of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration reached with Iran over a failed arms deal signed in 1979, before the fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The settlement was reached on the same weekend in January as the formal implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.
In his announcement of the settlement, immediately after the release of five American hostages in Iran including the Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, Jason Rezaian, President Barack Obama did not mention the cash payment.
Since the cash shipment, the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guard has arrested two more Iranian-Americans. Tehran has also detained dual-nationals from France, Canada and the U.K. in recent months, according to the Journal.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the two negotiations, including negotiating teams, were different and separate and that the cash settlement and the prisoner release were not related.
But the newspaper reported that U.S. officials also acknowledge that Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible in the nuclear deal.
The settlement was paid in foreign currency and in cash because continued U.S. and global sanctions complicate Iran’s access to global banks.
The $400 million represents a return of the exact amount that the Shah’s regime deposited with the Pentagon in 1979 to purchase U.S. fighter jets, an unnamed U.S. official told the post.
Obama reportedly approved the shipment of the $400 million.