Former US Official: Obama Administration’s $400 Million ‘Ransom’ for Captives ‘Incentivizes’ Iran to Continue Hostage-Taking (INTERVIEW)
The transfer of $400 million in cash by the Obama administration to the regime in Tehran, coupled with the additional revelation that the US Justice Department’s objections to the transaction were overruled by the State Department, “reinforce the claim that it did, indeed, constitute a ransom payment for American hostages held in Iran,” a former member of the National Security Council and deputy assistant secretary for public diplomacy in the Defense Department under President George W. Bush, told The Algemeiner on Friday.
Michael Doran — an expert on international Mideast politics and senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based Hudson Institute — was responding to the latest scandal surrounding the clandestine nature of the negotiations leading up to the Iran nuclear deal in general, and to this week’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ) exposés in particular.
“The administration in Washington is trying to present this as old news, but a number of details are in fact new,” Doran said, referring to Wednesday’s report that back in January, “Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane” — on the day that four US citizens held captive were freed.
Doran, who penned a lengthy piece in Mosaic last year titled: “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy,” also said, “We now know the next chapter of the story. Since releasing the American hostages in return for the cash, the Iranians have detained at least four or five dual nationals in the last five months. In other words, they have replenished their supply of hostages.”
This, he said, amounts to the United States “rewarding and incentivizing very nasty behavior.”
According to the WSJ,
The money represented the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration reached with Iran to resolve a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal signed just before the 1979 fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The settlement, which resolved claims before an international tribunal in The Hague, also coincided with the formal implementation that same weekend of the landmark nuclear agreement reached between Tehran, the U.S. and other global powers the summer before.
“With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” President Barack Obama said at the White House on Jan. 17—without disclosing the $400 million cash payment.
After outrage ensued following the report, the WSJ fanned the flames the following day, when it claimed that senior officials at the Justice Department, concerned that the transfer of cash would be construed by Iran as ransom, opposed the move, but was shot down by the State Department.
However, as the WSJ reported,
Senior U.S. officials denied the payment was anything like a ransom. They disputed that there was any link between the payment and the prisoner exchange, saying there was no quid pro quo.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest accused Republicans of seizing upon the Journal report to revive their campaign against the landmark nuclear deal, which took effect the same weekend as the prisoner release.
The prisoner-swap negotiations were led by the State Department, with help from the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The cash settlement talks were handled principally by State Department lawyers. All of that work was overseen, and ultimately approved, by the White House.
Obama responded to the charges during a news conference following a briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday afternoon, saying, in part:
This wasn’t some nefarious deal…it wasn’t a secret. We were completely open with everybody about it, and it is interesting to me how suddenly this became a story again. That’s point one.
Point two, we don’t pay ransom for hostages…We didn’t here and we won’t in the future. If we did, we would encourage Americans to be targeted. Much in the way of countries who do pay ransom have a lot more of their citizens taken by various groups.
Point number three is that the timing of this was in fact dictated by the — by the fact that as a consequence of us negotiating around the nuclear deal, we actually had diplomatic negotiations and conversations with Iran for the first time in several decades…
And let me make a final point on this. It has been well over a year since the agreement with Iran to stop its nuclear program was signed. And by all accounts it has worked exactly the way we said it was going to work…So what I’m interested in is if there is news to be made, why not have some of these folks who were predicting disaster say, you know, this thing actually worked… But of course that wasn’t going to happen. Instead what we have is the manufacturing of outrage in a story that we disclosed in January. And the only bit of news that is relevant on this is that we paid cash.
Which brings me to my last point. The reason we had to give them cash is because we are so strict in maintaining sanctions… we don’t have a banking relationships with Iran that we couldn’t send them a check. We could not wire the money.
And it is not at all clear to me why it is that cash as opposed to a check or a wire transfer has made this into a news story. Maybe because it feels like some spy novel or you know, some crime novel…
The four hostages released on January 17 were: Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, Nosratollah Khosravi, former Marine Amir Hekmati and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.
This story, and Obama’s reaction to it, however, “will have very limited impact on the upcoming presidential election,” Doran concluded.