Since the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal last year, Iran's rulers have consistently rebuffed President Barack Obama's efforts at engagement and continued to exploit his weakness. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has used the billions of dollars Iran received under the deal to increase military spending, advance Iran's missile program and wreak havoc across the Middle East. Tehran has detained American sailors in violation of its international commitments, kidnapped a growing number of Americans and expanded its financing of terror, all with no repercussions. Instead, the mullahs have been rewarded, even securing a $1.7 billion payment from the Obama administration, including $400 million in cash flown in on a plane, which served as a poorly disguised ransom payment for American hostages.
The Obama administration's ransom payment has become a source of bragging rights and extensive propaganda from the Iranian regime. By sending the signal that hostages are a legitimate means of securing concessions from our government, the Obama administration has put countless American lives at risk through this payment. The number of American hostages in Iranian prisons now grows almost monthly. Even Obama's own State Department has acknowledged this risk and updated its travel warning to state that the Iranian regime continues to unjustly detain and imprison U.S. citizens.
I opposed the nuclear deal with Iran and have fought this administration's endless concessions to the world's foremost state sponsor of terror. Now I'm fighting this outrageous ransom payment by introducing legislation today called the No Ransom Payments Act. My bill would forbid any future ransom payments for hostages. It would require Iran to return the $1.7 billion it received from the Obama administration, and it would forbid any future settlements of Iranian claims until Iran first pays the more than $55 billion awarded by U.S. courts to American victims of Iranian-backed terror, and to the Americans held hostage by Iran in 1979. The bill would also mandate sanctions against Iranians who hold or detain U.S. citizens.
Obama has defended his ransom payment by saying it was not a ransom at all, but rather a settlement for a decades-old financial dispute with Iran. He claimed the payment and the hostage release were negotiated on separate diplomatic channels. But this is irrelevant. The payments were made within hours of the hostages being released, and the plane carrying the hostages was not allowed to leave Tehran until the plane with the ransom payment arrived. Payments conditioned on the release of hostages are ransom payments, no matter what other dispute they are intended to settle.
After pressure, the administration admitted the timing of the payments in relation to the hostage release was not as coincidental as it had initially claimed. "We took advantage of leverage that we felt we could have," said a spokesman for the State Department. This proves that the president lied about his intentions behind the payment. This was a ransom payment, pure and simple.
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Congress has a responsibility to act on this matter. If it does not, it would send a signal to America's enemies that our government no longer takes seriously its longstanding refusal to pay ransom for hostages. That's a disturbing thought. As a senator, I have worked to help many families whose loved ones have been taken hostage by foreign governments or terrorist groups. The No Ransom Payments Act will prevent this president or any future president from paying ransoms and ensure that American victims of Iranian terrorism are paid first, before the regime in Tehran can claim settlements.
This month, the House is expected to vote on a similar measure to prevent any such dangerous ransom payments in the future. This will be yet another opportunity for those misguided individuals who have supported the Iran deal in the past to acknowledge it is a mistake of epic proportions, built on lies, that will only enrich this terrorist regime in Iran and help pave the way for it to acquire nuclear weapons. The Senate must vote on the Iran ransom payment as well so we can finally begin to hold the administration accountable for its lies. This is a precedent-setting matter that I believe deserves the full attention of Congress this month.
Marco Rubio is a Republican U.S. senator from Florida.