Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is asking President Obama to release nearly $2 billion in Iranian assets frozen in a New York bank account.
Ahmadinejad, who left office in 2013 but may be eyeing a new run for president next year, told Obama in a letter that the “property seizure” is “counter to all international legal principles and rules.” Continuing to withhold the money, Ahmadinejad added, could further deepen the “historical distrust” between the two nations.
“Your campaign slogan was ‘change,’” Ahmadinejad wrote to Obama in the letter, published on Monday by the private Tasnim News Agency. However “the same hostile policies along with the same trend of enmity were pursued,” he warned.
“I passionately advise you not to let the historical defamation and bitter incident be recorded under your name.”
The frozen assets have been a continued point of friction between Washington and Tehran for years, and the letter from Ahmadinejad could stir up new anxieties about the blocked money just as public attention is returning to the U.S.-Iranian relationship. The White House has been on defense in recent days, following the revelation that it secretly sent $400 million in cash to Iran to resolve a decades-old financial dispute. Over the weekend, Iran announced that it had executed a nuclear scientist who had provided information to the U.S.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that the $1.75 billion worth of assets held by the U.S. could be distributed to more than 1,000 victims of terrorism sponsored by Iran, including the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1996 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Khobar Towers. Congress had directly intervened in the case to shuttle the money to the victims, and the Obama administration had also advocated for the ruling.
Iran is appealing the case at the International Court of Justice.
Both the State Department and the White House declined to immediately comment on the letter.
Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner in Iran’s political system, served as its president from 2005 to 2013, during which the chasm deepened between the U.S. and Iran.
The relationship between the two powers has thawed somewhat in recent years, following the election of President Hassan Rouhani and the completion last year of the international nuclear deal. However, the countries remain at odds on many issues, and Iranian leaders have expressed frustration with the outcome of the nuclear pact, which is under strain in the U.S.
Rouhani is expected to run for a second term next year, but he may meet opposition from Ahmadinejad and others who question the deal’s impact.