President Joe Biden’s nominee to be Ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, oversaw the infamous “pallets of cash” transfer of funds to Iran while serving as former President Barack Obama’s Treasury Secretary in 2016.
The Obama administration paid Iran nearly $2 billion in January of 2016 to resolve a dispute dating back to the 1970’s, in which the U.S.-backed Shah government in Iran purchased $400 million of military equipment from Washington. The equipment was never delivered due to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and Obama paid back the $400 million to Tehran plus $1.3 billion in interest.
As Treasury Secretary, Lew oversaw the transfer of the initial $400 million payment on Jan. 17, 2016, which was delivered in the now-infamous form of foreign cash carried on a number of pallets by aircraft. The “pallets of cash” incident became a frequent line of critique for those who opposed Obama’s policy toward Iran, which involved lifting sanctions and negotiating a diplomatic agreement aimed at curbing the development of Tehran’s nuclear program.
The money for Iran came from a Treasury Department fund known as the “Judgement Fund,” which is money set aside by Congress to settle litigation disputes.
That transaction is likely to be one of several critiques brought by Republicans when Lew goes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday for a confirmation hearing. Lew has long been cozier with Iran than most hawks would like, a stance that could complicate his confirmation process following the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel earlier this month.
“Jack Lew is an Iranian sympathizer who has no business being the U.S. ambassador to Israel,” Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said Sunday. “The Senate should not confirm him.”
Jack Lew is an Iranian sympathizer who has no business being the U.S. ambassador to Israel. The Senate should not confirm him. pic.twitter.com/16mXB2W8gI
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) October 15, 2023
A 2018 Senate report found Lew falsely claimed Iran had no access to the U.S financial system during his time as Treasury Secretary. In fact, Lew “granted a specific license that authorized a conversion of Iranian assets worth billions of U.S. dollars using the U.S. financial system,” according to the report from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Lew was also responsible for implementing sanctions relief for Iran as part of the JCPOA, colloquially known as Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. The JCPOA required that Washington lift various sanctions on Tehran in exchange for the Islamic Republic ceasing its pursuit of nuclear weapons. (RELATED: Iran’s Ayatollah Says No One Can Stop Muslim ‘Resistance Forces’)
Republicans have put Biden’s Iran policy under the microscope after the Hamas attack against Israel, which came just weeks after the administration greenlit the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian assets as part of a prisoner swap agreement. Iran is the number one state sponsor of Hamas, providing the terror group with tens of millions of dollars in support every year.
Iran celebrated the attack against Israel, which killed more than 1,000 people, overwhelmingly civilians, but the Biden administration and Israeli government maintain they have not discovered a direct link between Iran and the planning or execution of the attack. Still, the White House opted to re-freeze the $6 billion for Iran after days of political pressure.