The State Department on Tuesday refused to confirm whether 13 transfers of nearly $100 million each back in January, which can be seen on a government website, are the payments the U.S. made to Iran to settle a failed arms deal.
Those payments can be found on a website that tracks spending in the so-called "Judgment Fund" toward the settlement of foreign claims. But when department spokesman Mark Toner was asked if those payments represent the $1.3 billion the Obama administration paid to Iran, Toner said he didn't know.
"I don't know," he said. "I've seen the document to which you are referring, I have not had a chance to double check it."
The Obama administration has admitted to paying Iran a total of $1.7 billion to settle a 1979 arms deal with Iran that never took place, after the shah of Iran was overthrown. But officials have hedged for months on exactly when and how the payment was made.
It was eventually discovered that $400 million was paid in cash. And on Monday, the New York Sun was first to report that the remaining $1.3 billion appears to have been paid from the Judgment Fund.
A confirmation that the Judgment Fund payments do reflect the U.S. paying the outstanding $1.3 billion would likely raise other questions. For example, the Obama administration — and President Obama himself — has said it had to pay out the $400 million in cash because the U.S. has no banking relationship with Iran.
But if the Judgment Fund payments were to Iran, that would show the Obama administration's claim to be untrue.
Toner on Tuesday refused to discuss how the payments were made, and refused to confirm that they went to Iran.
Another question is what might have changed about the financial relationship between the U.S. and Iran between Jan. 17, when the cash payment was made, and Jan. 19, when the $1.3 billion was transferred. Toner also refused questions about that today.
"I don't know, and we've said we're not going to talk about this," he said.
Republicans have argued that the cash payment to Iran may have made it easier for Iran to fund terrorist activities abroad, and have more broadly blasted the entire payment as a "ransom," since it was paid out immediately after the release of four American hostages in Iran.
The White House and its own State Department appear to be split on whether to say the payment was used as "leverage" to free the hostages. The State Department has admitted that much, while the White House has refused to admit it was "leverage."