The US government is said to have airlifted $400 million in cash to Iran in a secret operation that coincided with the release in January of four Iranian-American prisoners held by the Islamic Republic, including the Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian.
An Obama administration spokesman denied any link between the payment and the release of the prisoners.
According to the Wall Street Journal late Tuesday, the funds were procured from banks in Switzerland and the Netherlands and were flown in euros, Swiss francs and other currencies in an unmarked cargo plane into Iran.
Citing US and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the secret operation after-the-fact, the Journal reported that the money was the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement deal between Iran and the US to resolve a disputed arms deal just before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the fall of the shah.
The Iranian claims were brought before an international tribunal at The Hague, where Iran was seeking $10 billion.
The settlement also coincided with the implementation of the contested Iranian nuclear deal, reached between the world powers and Iran last summer, that aims curb Tehran’s atomic program and bring it under international supervision in exchange for easing punishing sanctions on Iran.
Critics have argued that the influx of cash would only be directed to funding Iran’s terrorism activities worldwide. A June US State Department report on global terrorist activity listed Iran as the top state sponsor of terrorism.