One of the unexpected results of President Barack Obama’s new opening to Iran is that U.S. taxpayers are now funding both sides of the Middle East’s arms race. The U.S. is deliberately subsidizing defense spending for allies like Egypt and Israel. Now the U.S. is inadvertently paying for some of Iran’s military expenditures as well.
It all starts with $1.7 billion the U.S. Treasury wired to Iran’s Central Bank in January, during a delicate prisoner swap and the implementation of last summer’s nuclear deal to resolve a long-standing dispute about Iran’s arms purchases before the revolution of 1979.
For months it was unclear what Iran’s government would do with this money. But last month the mystery was solved when Iran’s Guardian Council approved the government’s 2017 budget that instructed Iran’s Central Bank to transfer the $1.7 billion to the military.
Saeed Ghasseminejad, an associate fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, spotted the budget item. He told me the development was widely reported in Iran by numerous sources including the state-funded news services. “Article 22 of the budget for 2017 says the Central Bank is required to give the money from the legal settlement of Iran’s pre- and post-revolutionary arms sales of up to $1.7 billion to the defense budget,” he said.
Republicans and some Democrats who opposed Obama’s nuclear deal have argued that the end of some sanctions would help to fund Iran’s military. But at least that was Iran’s money already (albeit frozen in overseas bank accounts). The $1.7 billion that Treasury transferred to Iran in January is different.
A portion of it, $400 million, came from a trust fund comprising money paid by the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a U.S. ally, for arms sold to Iran before the 1979 revolution. Those sales were cut off in 1979 after revolutionaries took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held the American staff hostage for 444 days. The remaining $1.3 billion represents interest on the $400 million principle over more than 36 years.