Half-True
Handel
"Nearly $2 billion in cash was flown over to Iran, money that the Obama administration has admitted is being used for terrorists and to support further activities there."  

Karen Handel on Tuesday, June 6th, 2017 in a debate

Fact-check: Handel claims Obama flew $2 billion to Iran, admitted it is being used to fund terrorism

Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff debate June 6, 2017. The two are running in Georgia's 6th Congressional District.

All politics might be local but foreign policy dominated the open of the televised debate in the Georgia congressional race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel.

Asked about Iran and the Barack Obama-era deal that was designed to put the brakes on its nuclear program, Handel said, "Nearly $2 billion in cash was flown over to Iran, money that the Obama administration has admitted is being used for terrorists and to support further activities there."

We decided to fact-check Handel’s claim.

Iran nuclear deal

The Iran deal focused on reducing Iran’s stockpiles of nuclear-grade material, but a key provision unlocked Iranian assets that had been frozen for decades. How much money was there is a matter of debate.

The U.S. Treasury Department estimated the value of Iran’s foreign currency reserves at $100 billion. An article in Foreign Policy magazine cited $120 billion.

The Institute of International Finance, a trade association representing banks, insurance companies and other financial entities worldwide, ran its own numbers and settled on $100 billion.

Handel’s $2 billion

Handel’s staff pointed to a March 17, 2016, letter from the U.S. State Department saying Iran had received about $1.7 billion as part of the nuclear agreement. The money was legally due to Iran. The country had paid America for military equipment in 1979, but then the Iranian revolution came and the hardware was never delivered.

In August 2016, many news organizations reported the delivery of $400 million of that $1.7 billion in cash. As part of that exchange, an unmarked cargo plane delivered the money after American officials were certain that three Americans held in Iran were on their way home.

It is not known how the remaining $1.3 billion made its way to Iran. Given the isolation of Iran’s banking system, it is possible that the payment was made in cash and flown to Iran, but neither we nor Handel’s staff could point to any report that said that definitely took place.

Money for terrorism

The idea that the Obama administration admitted that the money is being spent on terrorists comes from something then-Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview.

Kerry told CNBC’s Squawk Box in January 2016 that Iran could spend the unfrozen assets however it wanted.

"I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) or of other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists," Kerry said. "To some degree, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented."

The IRGC, as Iran’s premier security institution, fields an army, navy and air force and "presides over a vast power structure with influence over almost every aspect of Iranian life," according to the Council on Foreign Relations think tank. In 2007, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the IRGC’s elite Quds Force a terrorist supporter for aiding the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.

So, Kerry was saying some of the money ultimately would end up with organizations involved in terrorism.

That’s not quite the same as saying all of the money would go for terrorists and activities to support terrorism as Handel said. Iran has many needs, including rebuilding aging infrastructure.

Kerry did tell reporters the same day, according to the Associated Press, that he understands the IRGC is "already complaining that they are not getting the money."

Our ruling

Handel said the Obama administration admitted that nearly $2 billion flown to Iran is being used to fund terrorism and various supporting activities. She is more specific than the record supports. One way or another, the United States transferred $1.7 billion owed to Iran. As for what the administration admitted, Kerry said it was likely that some portion of any money Iran received would go to its top security organization and some of that money would end up advancing terrorism.

Beyond that general statement, details are lacking.

We rate this claim Half True.

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Half True
"Nearly $2 billion in cash was flown over to Iran, money that the Obama administration has admitted is being used for terrorists and to support further activities there."
In the Georgia congressional debate
Tuesday, June 6, 2017