AP FACT CHECK: Trump off base on Clinton and Iran payment

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Briar Woods High School, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, was responsible for negotiations that led to a $400 million U.S. payment to Iran when she was secretary of state. Reacting to a Wall Street Journal story published Wednesday that described the delivery of the $400 million in cash to Tehran in January, Trump accused Clinton on Twitter of having opened talks to give Iran the money.

TRUMP, in a tweet on Wednesday: “Our incompetent Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was the one who started talks to give 400 million dollars, in cash, to Iran. Scandal!”

THE FACTS: Trump is wrong about Clinton’s involvement. The $400 million payment — plus $1.3 billion in interest to be paid later — is a separate issue from the Iran nuclear deal that Clinton initiated.

In the late 1970s the Iranian government, under the U.S.-backed shah, paid the United States $400 million for military equipment. The equipment was never delivered because in 1979, his government was overthrown, revolutionaries took American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran were severed.

In 1981, the United States and Iran agreed to set up a commission at The Hague that would rule on claims by each country for property and assets held by the other. Iran’s $400 million claim was among many that had been tied up in litigation before the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, and interest that the U.S. would have to pay for holding the money for so long was growing.

Litigation over these claims has continued intermittently for 35 years, with some being settled and others going to the tribunal for judgment. All private U.S. claims before the tribunal have been resolved with Iran paying more than $2.5 billion to American people and businesses. Some claims remain unresolved.

As secretary of state, Clinton did initiate secret talks with Iran aimed at resolving issues related to the country’s nuclear program. After John Kerry succeeded her on Feb. 1, 2013, those secret contacts grew into 18 months of formal negotiations that culminated in the July 2015 nuclear deal.

U.S. officials had expected a ruling on the Iranian claim from the tribunal any time, and feared a ruling that would have made the interest payments much higher. As the nuclear talks progressed, the separate, intermittent talks on the $400 million claim continued.

On Jan. 17, a day after the nuclear deal was implemented, the United States and Iran publicly announced they had settled the $400 million claim, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with $1.3 billion in interest. Official administration statements at the time made clear that the $400 million and the interest amount would be paid separately, but did not specify how it would be delivered. U.S. officials said that the $400 million was paid in cash and flown to Tehran on a cargo plane.

Trump is correct that the $400 million was paid in cash. But litigation on the Iranian claim preceded Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state by decades and heated up only after she left the job.

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