John Kerry

John Kerry

House Republicans are demanding Secretary of State John Kerry explain a $1.7 billion payment siphoned to Iran last month, right around the time Tehran agreed to free five U.S. captives, leaving many of Capitol Hill to wonder: was this a pay-out to secure their release?

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., sent a letter to Kerry complaining the Foreign Relations Committee he chairs was not informed about the payment, Fox News reported.

The White House explained the money as a previously agreed to settlement for $400 million in frozen Iranian funds dating back to 1979, with the remaining $1.3 billion considered “interest,” the news outlet said.

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But Royce wasn’t appeased.

“It is unclear how this $1.7 billion is in the national security interests of the United States,” he said in his letter, which included a list of 10 questions for Kerry to address.

Specifically, he wanted to know how the White House figured the $1.3 billion interest, and he wanted to know why the money wasn’t instead used to “compensate American victims of Iranian terrorism who have been awarded judgments against Iran,” he wrote.

The $1.7 billion payment was announced by the White House on January 17, the same day Iran freed five U.S. detainees, including Jason Rezaian, from the Washington Post, and Saeed Abedini, a long-held Christian pastor. Then, President Obama justified it by saying the payment was “much less that the amount Iran sought,” Fox News reported. But critics in the GOP said the payment looked more like a “ransom” than anything else.

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And again, Royce wasn’t comforted with that explanation.

“I have a larger concern that in choosing to resolve this relatively minor bilateral dispute at this time, the Obama administration is aggressively moving toward reestablishing diplomatic relations with Iran,” he wrote. “Such action would clearly violate the president’s pledge to ‘remain vigilant’ in countering the threat Iran poses to the United States and our allies in the region.”

Royce said he’d like a response from the State Department by February 17.

Meanwhile, Iran’s top adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Tehran’s supreme leader, said Russia was poised to loan his country money to railway and nuclear power engineering projects, Reuters reported.

The two countries reportedly agreed to contracts worth about $40 billion.

“They have been initialed,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, of the agreements, Reuters reported. “[They’re] ready for implementation.”

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