WASHINGTON -- Iran paid the captors of Western hostages held in Lebanon about $1 million for each of the 10 hostages released since early August, a senior Bush administration official said yesterday.
The payments, first reported yesterday in the Washington Post, were in addition to regular financing the administration said Tehran had provided for years to shadowy Shiite Muslim fundamentalist groups holding hostages in Lebanon.
U.S. intelligence detected the payments after monitoring bank transfers traceable to Iranian sources into accounts identified as belonging to the Party of God, an umbrella organization of Lebanese Shiites sponsored by Tehran.
The administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Iran was still providing regular financing for the organization.
U.S. officials say they now believe that Iran concluded earlier this year that the hostages posed a serious obstacle to Tehran's goal of improving economic ties with the West in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse.
The administration has long debated the weight of Iran's influence over the captors.
The additional payments, coupled with new information that points to Tehran and not Lebanon as the source of nearly all major decisions about the hostages, indicate that Iran's sway over the captors was virtually total, the administration official said, commenting: "When they wanted a release, it would happen."
The official said that in the several months of negotiations by Giandomenico Picco, the personal envoy of Javier Perez de Cuellar, who was United Nations secretary-general, "his first and most important stop was Tehran, and Tehran called the shots."
U.S. officials said that despite such influence, Tehran had made the additional payments to speed along the deals and maintain good relations with the groups.
The Washington Post reported that Iran had paid $1 million to $2 million for each hostage, but the administration official said that the amount was slightly less than $1 million each.