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August 23, 2016 1:20 pm

The New York Times Lamely Tries to Defend America’s Ransom Payment to Iran

avatar by Ira Stoll

The trade-off of cash to Iran in exchange for release of American hostages. Photo: Fox News/Screenshot.

The trade-off of cash to Iran in exchange for release of American hostages. Photo: Fox News/Screenshot.

The New York Times has a staff editorial that attempts the extremely difficult task of defending the Obama administration’s payment of $400 million in cash in European currency, stacked on wooden pallets in an unmarked cargo plane, to the terror-supporting government of Iran in exchange for the release of three American hostages.

The headline of the Times editorial is: “The Fake $400 Million Iran ‘Ransom’ Story.” That pretty much sets the tone for what follows. The headline alleges the story is “fake,” when in fact the story is true. The word “Ransom” does not deserve the “scare quotes” with which the Times editors surround it.

The editorial begins: “The first thing to know about the latest controversy over the Iran nuclear deal is that the Obama administration did not pay $400 million in “ransom” to secure the release of three American detainees.”

That’s wrong. They did. It’s hard to see how the Times is insisting otherwise.

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The Times goes on to say that the ransom story is being peddled by critics “in another attempt to discredit an agreement that has done something remarkable — halted a program that had put Iran within striking distance of producing a nuclear weapon.”

That’s wrong, too. The Times has no way of knowing that the Iranian nuclear program has been halted. Perhaps there are Iranian nuclear activities or sites of which the Times is unaware. Even the Times itself reported in March that Iran had tested nuclear-capable missiles, which doesn’t exactly amount to a “halt.”

The Times editorial goes on, “The truth is that the administration withheld the payment to ensure Iran didn’t renege on its promise to free three detainees — a Washington Post journalist, a Marine veteran and a Christian pastor. That’s pragmatic diplomacy not capitulation.”

That’s wrong, too. The payment was not “withheld” — it was delivered at the same time the hostages were freed. “Pragmatic diplomacy” would have demanded additional concessions from Iran in exchange for the money.

The Times editorial says, “The United States and Iran have wrestled with this issue for decades.” That only proves the point that it was a ransom. If America managed to go decades without paying this money, how is it that the money was finally paid at exactly the moment that the hostages were released? There was nothing preventing America from going decades more without paying — nothing except for the Obama administration’s plan to pay a ransom for the hostages.

The Times editorial says, “The United States was not the only country facing a legal defeat with Iran. Earlier this month, Switzerland’s highest court ordered Israel to pay Iran around $1.1 billion plus interest in a dispute over an oil pipeline company that was set up in the 1960s.” What the Times doesn’t mention is that Israel hasn’t paid that money. America could easily take the same approach. It had resisted payment for decades, until the Obama administration capitulated.

“While the asset negotiations were separate from the negotiations over the nuclear program and the release of the detainees, all three issues came together in a carefully choreographed push,” the Times claims. These issues were “separate” in name only; even the State Department has now acknowledged, if the Times editorialists won’t, that the money was used as leverage to get the hostages released.

The Times claims, “it was Iran’s money, and at some point, either through negotiation or arbitration, Iran was going to get it back.” Well, why not make that “at some point” some time much later, after Iran has undergone a regime change, after it ceases sponsoring terrorism or executing gays? Or after it pays American and Israeli and European victims of terrorist attacks what they are rightfully owed in compensation, a dollar amount that so dwarfs what America supposedly owes Iran that a decent approach would have been to airlift the cargo plane full of cash directly to Stephen Flatow’s office in New Jersey rather than to the mullahs in Tehran.

Because the disputed money stems from a deal that predates the current Iranian regime, America might conceivably have even repaid the money to current representatives of some previous Iranian regime — the heirs to the Peacock Throne — rather than to the current Islamist government.

The Times does acknowledge one point: “Where the administration went wrong was in not being more transparent sooner about how the detainees’ release unfolded.” Hmm. I wonder why the administration could possibly have wanted to avoid that kind of transparency. Could it possibly be because, to anyone other than a New York Times editorial writer with his or her head wedged somewhere it doesn’t belong, such a payment — European currency arriving by cargo plane on wooden pallets at the moment that hostages were being released — would look like a ransom payment? Or because the American people and their Congress would be disgusted and furious to learn that their government was engaging in such payoffs to terrorists?

The Times concedes, “There are many reasons to fault Iran, including for its role in the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal civil war; aid to Hezbollah; hatred of Israel; and abysmal human rights record.” Missing from the list and from the editorial as a whole: The fact that Iran took the American hostages to begin with, and, most crucial of all, that since these three were ransomed, the Iranians have seized or continued to hold additional Western hostages, including Homa Hoodfar, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella, Robin Shihani, Kamal Foroughi, Roya Nobakht and Saeed Malekpour. At more than $100 million a hostage, the American payment gives Iran plenty of incentive to hold out for additional cash rather than releasing these individuals immediately and without conditions. Where’s the New York Times editorial calling for that? It hasn’t been published, because the newspaper is too busy playing defense for the Obama administration.

When it comes to other countries, the Times urges consequences in response for misconduct. Just a few days ago, for example, the newspaper had an editorial calling on America to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other assistance to Riyadh in retaliation for Saudi air strikes in Yemen. It’s a remarkable double standard. The Times wants an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, but a few days later shamelessly defends shipping $400 million in cash to an Iranian regime that is just as brazenly deadly in its contempt for civilian lives.

The Times concludes: “History is replete with instances of American presidents advancing national interests by working with governments they did not necessarily trust. This is one of them.” The Times is sanguine about how this secret payment of cargo plane cash to Iran will advance American “national interests.” It cavalierly disregards the interests of the Israeli Jews whose elected government warns that it would be the target of these Iranian nuclear missiles, and it also shrugs off the interests of the Iranian citizens stuck under the boot of this brutal clerical regime newly enriched and empowered by American taxpayer cash.

The next time some Iranian-funded terrorist kills some American teenager studying in Israel, ask a New York Times editorial writer how this advances “national interests.” Or better yet, ask for a peek at the Times editorial writer’s hands. If you look carefully, you just might see the bloodstains.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.  

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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