US president says government will no longer threaten families of hostages who decide to negotiate with armed groups.
The 53 Americans taken hostage in Iran in 1979 will get financial compensation that eluded them for decades, after US politicians included a payment provision in sweeping spending legislation.
The men and women taken hostage by Iranian student groups at the US embassy and who spent 444 days in captivity will be given restitution of up to $4.4 million each, or $10,000 for each day they were held.
Their story gripped Americans back home, and the hostage crisis ruptured Washington-Tehran relations that had already frayed with the beginning of the Iranian revolution.
Because the agreement that freed the hostages in January 1981 barred them from collecting restitution from the Iranian government, the victims spent decades unsuccessfully pursuing claims.
But when a US judge this year ordered France’s largest bank, BNP Paribas, to pay $8.9bn in fines to settle violations of US sanctions linked to Iran, funding for “terrorism” victims finally became available.
“It’s been a long arduous, epic struggle,” lawyer Thomas Lankford, who represents nearly all of the hostages and relatives, told the AFP news agency on Thursday, explaining that the funding will come from the penalties paid by companies that violated sanctions and conducted illegal business with Iran, North Korea, Syria and other nations.
“I would never have dreamed, when I became involved in this effort in 1999, that I would spend 16 years at it, honestly,” he said. “As we got farther and farther away from the incident, it became subordinate to policy and personalities, and that explains why it didn’t happen.”
The huge “omnibus” spending bill that Barack Obama signed into law last week also provides for compensation for victims of other state-sponsored “terror” attacks, including the 1983 bombings in Beirut.
Politicians said the bill also addresses compensation for victims of the 1998 American embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.
Lankford said he believed it might still take “several years” before the Department of Justice delivers money to victims.