President Trump took direct aim at former President Barack Obama on Wednesday, blaming the last administration for giving Iran money that he claimed was then used by Tehran to pay for missiles that were aimed at U.S. troops in Iraq.
“The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration,” Trump said from the White House, referring to settlement money the U.S. paid to Iran in 2016.
Trump addressed the nation the morning after the Iranian regime launched more than a dozen missiles at bases in Iraq that housed U.S. troops. That was in retaliation for the U.S. strike last week that took out top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
In his remarks, he pointed the finger at the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) from which the U.S. withdrew in 2018. While supporters of the deal claimed it kept Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, Trump on Wednesday renewed his assertion that it emboldened Tehran.
“Iran's hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013, and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash,” he said. “Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they chanted 'Death to America.'”
He went on to say that Iran went on a “terrorist spree” with that money “and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq.” It was with that money that the missiles fired late Tuesday were funded, he claimed.
Trump has been a constant critic of the Iran deal since, and has focused in particular on the money that was unfrozen or sent to Iran directly.
It’s unclear exactly how the missiles used in the attacks were funded. But other Republicans have connected the Iran settlement money to the attacks, with GOP Texas Sen. Ted Cruz saying on Fox News' "Hannity" on Tuesday night, “In a very real sense, the missiles that we saw fired at U.S. servicemen and women tonight were paid for by the billions that the Obama administration flooded the Ayatollah with."
The cash payment of $1.7 billion, a settlement of a decades-old dispute between the U.S. and Iran -- was paid in cash, with a planeload of $400 million delivered to Tehran on Jan. 17 2016, the same day Iran agreed to release four American prisoners. A remaining $1.3 billion was reportedly paid out within weeks of that first payment.
The $150 billion, meanwhile, refers to the estimated value of Iranian assets that had been frozen abroad in financial institutions as part of international sanctions. That money was unfrozen by all countries as part of the Iran deal. Some fact checkers have disputed that the value is as high as $150 billion, citing Treasury estimates that it could be around $55 billion in liquid assets.
Former Obama Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes responded to Trump's speech on Twitter, accusing the president of "lying relentlessly."
"Iran didn’t fire a single rocket at U.S. interests in Iraq during the Iran Deal," he said. "Just look at what Iran has done since Trump pulled out of that Deal. Trump is lying relentlessly and he has made things much more dangerous."
Since leaving the Iran deal, the Trump administration has reimposed waves of sanctions on Tehran, while the Iranian regime has violated the agreement’s restrictions on stockpiled uranium.
On Wednesday, Trump called for other countries to break away from the deal and secure a new one, arguing that the current deal begins to expire soon and “gives Iran a clear and quick path to nuclear breakout.”
“The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality,” he said. “They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”
Some U.S. allies have acknowledged the deal’s current problems, but while still remaining publicly committed to the deal. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, earlier Wednesday, said that the deal “remains the best way of preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran, the best way of encouraging the Iranians not to develop a nuclear weapon.”
“It’s a shell that has currently been voided, but it remains a shell into which we can put substance again,” he told British lawmakers.