[Reading the following paragraph in the NYTimes in 1979 was my original motivation for entering the world of political activism. Seeing with my own eyes the proof that the American President had the authority, under certain conditions, to seize all of your assets held in the US, or in any US bank overseas.]
“The President may…confiscate any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, of any foreign person, foreign organization, or foreign country that he determines has planned, authorized, aided, or engaged in such hostilities or attacks against the United States; and all right, title, and interest in any property so confiscated shall vest, when, as, and upon the terms directed by the President, in such agency or person as the President may designate from time to time, and upon such terms and conditions as the President may prescribe, such interest or property shall be held, used, administered, liquidated, sold, or otherwise dealt with in the interest of and for the benefit of the United States, and such designated agency or person may perform any and all acts incident to the accomplishment or furtherance of these purposes.”—50 U.S. Code § 1702 – Presidential authorities, in section 1701 of this title
Executive Order NO. 12170
Blocking Iranian Government Property
Pursuant to the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and laws of the United States including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 50 U.S.C.A. sec. 1701 et seq., the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. sec. 1601 et seq., and 3 U.S.C. sec. 301,
I, Jimmy Carter, President of the United States, find that the situation in Iran constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States and hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.
I hereby order blocked all property and interests in property of the Government of Iran, its instrumentalities and controlled entities and the Central Bank of Iran which are or become subject to the jurisdiction of the United States or which are in or come within the possession or control of persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
The Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to employ all powers granted to me by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to carry out the provisions of this order.
This order is effective immediately and shall be transmitted to the Congress and published in the Federal Register.
The White House
November 14, 1979
Iranian state television broadcast this image of a shipping pallet stacked with cash in February
The money was part of a hostage deal, but not the one some might think
The currency shipped to Iran in the dead of night drew attention from presidential candidate Donald Trump this week, who on Friday appeared to walk back an earlier assertion that he had seen a payment being delivered. But that money was owed to the Islamic Republic since 1979, the year the U.S. froze all the Iranian funds in American banks as retribution for seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, as revolution swept that nation.
What was universally known as the Iran hostage crisis went on for more than a year, and finally ended with a bargain: In exchange for the release of 52 American diplomats and citizens, both sides agreed to resolve the question of money through international arbitration. The Iran-United States Claims Tribunal has trudged along for almost four decades now, and the money has flowed both ways. By 1983, Iran had returned $896 million to U.S. banks, which in turn had returned hundreds of millions in frozen funds to Iran. Today, private claims from the U.S. side have been resolved to the tune of $2.1 billion.
But still at issue as Obama began his second term was $400 million that Iran in the late 1970s had paid for U.S. fighter jets, while Tehran was still a U.S. ally. After it turned into an enemy in 1979, Washington was not about to deliver the jets. But, all these years later, Iran wanted its money back—and with interest.