Iran president hints at future prisoner swaps, cash settlements with US

Iran president hints at future prisoner swaps, cash settlements with US
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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hinted at future coordinated prisoner swaps and lawsuit settlements between the U.S. and his country as the Obama administration faces bipartisan heat over a billion-dollar cash payment to Iran earlier this year.

Rouhani told NBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview published Thursday that the January prisoner swap and settlement of a decades-old lawsuit ran on “parallel tracks” and that similar arrangements could happen in the future.

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“These two issues [were] being talked about simultaneously on parallel tracks,” said Rouhani. “And perhaps these dialogues can be still conducted simultaneously on parallel tracks while we're conducting those same conversations in order to free the sums of money that are still owed to us.”

The U.S. paid Iran $1.7 billion in international banknotes to settle a nearly 40-year-old case over money owed to the Islamic republic for a failed arms deal. That payment happened shortly after a prisoner swap that freed four Americans held captive in Iran. 

The prisoner swap and payment were negotiated simultaneously, according to administration officials. 

Republican lawmakers have accused the administration of paying a "ransom" for the American prisoners. Members of both parties expressed concerns about paying Iran — designated by the State Department as the world’s leading state sponsor of terror — in untraceable money.

“Hard cash is the preferred currency of terrorism,” Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThe global reality behind 'local' problems Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year This week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill MORE (R-Ill.) said Wednesday in a Senate Banking subcommittee hearing. “How much more harm can Iran and its terrorist allies to do Americans and the world?”

“An unchecked Iran poses not only a threat, but a grave threat,” added Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (D-N.D.).

The House is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would block cash payments to Iran and add transparency requirements to future lawsuit settlements between the U.S. and Iran.

“There are still considerable sums of money in the United States that belong to our nation,” said Rouhani. “And we're currently conducting conversations and various dialogues in order to return this money to Iran.”

Rouhani also claimed the U.S. wasn’t following the terms of last year’s nuclear deal and scaring off international banks from doing business with Iran.

“The Treasury Department of the United States, instead of encouraging countries and nations and financial institutions to resume relationships with Iran, it has taken a threatening tone,” he said.

“And it is out of that fear of being the target of the Treasury Department of the United States that has given serious doubts to many of these financial international institutions.”

The House on Wednesday passed a bill that would require Treasury to issue a report on assets controlled by Iranian political and military leaders.

The White House threatened a veto of the bill, arguing a report would be burdensome, encourage Iranian leaders to hide their assets and drive Iran away from following the international deal requiring it to curb its nuclear activities.