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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.
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 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 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.
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."
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.
WSB-TV, 6th Congressional district debate, June 6, 2017
U.S. State Department, Letter to House Committee on Foreign Affairs, March 17, 2016
New York Times, U.S. Concedes $400 Million Payment to Iran Was Delayed as Prisoner ‘Leverage’, Aug. 18, 2016
CNBC, Secretary of State John Kerry interview, Jan. 21, 2016
CNN, John Kerry: Some sanctions relief money for Iran will go to terrorism, Jan. 21, 2016
New York Post, US paid Iran $1.3 in cash to settle old dispute, Aug. 16, 2016
U.S. News & World Report, White House ‘nearly certain’ Iran will still fund terrorism, Aug. 5, 2015
PolitiFact Wisconsin, Obama administration admits cash from Iran deal will go directly to terrorism, Sen. Ron Johnson says, Jan. 29, 2016
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