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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

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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.

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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  • Gino

    “My president right or wrong” seems to be the position of a rag that insisted that George W. Bush was wrong even when he was right. Maybe they just aren’t smart enough to know the difference and need to rely on party labels to make decisions about right and wrong.

    If so, why do we need them? We all know who the Democrats are and who the Republicans are. Maybe we should do the same?

  • 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.
    A lie is a lie. No matter how you whitewash it, it shows through.

  • Xenophanes

    It is Iran’s money, not a ransom.

  • Reform School

    If the Obama/Clinton/Kerry administration really wanted to help citizens of the United States, instead of $400,000,000 in small bills, it would have sent Iran the New York Times.

    • Reform School

      Not the New York Times’ published print output.

      The New York Times’ owners, management and editors.

      Now THERE’S a bunch of hostages we can live without!

  • nat cheiman

    They would, wouldn’t they?

  • Stan Nadel

    What is lame is trying to call the withholding of the payment until the prisoners were released a “ransom payment” as it turns reality on its head. Stoll may be right about some of his other points here, but this perversion of reality discredits everything else he says.

  • If Obama appointed Ayatollah Khomeini as his Islam adviser, the NYT would support it. There is no value left in the NYT and it is time they went out of business as they promote evil at every opportunity. Same applies to CNN.

  • Defending the IN-defensible. That is how low the antisemitic NYT chooses to go.
    Perhaps USSR will divulge some juicy info on NYT journalists soon.

  • Samuel Bahn

    The Times editorial states: “There are many reasons to fault Iran….hatred of Israel….”
    No, no, no – not mere “hatred”, but threatened genocide. By downgrading and whitewashing Iran’s behavior toward Israel as hatred, the Times excuses itself, and the Administration, from having to strongly condemn Iran, from having to call for sanctions against Iran and even for dealing with Iran. This is the same tactic that the Times uses to avoid condemnation of Hamas and even raising them to the level of Israel – by mislabeling Hamas as militants and inexcusably refusing to call them terrorists, as does the State Department, EU, etc.
    Holding the Times responsible for its blatantly inaccurate terminology is a crucial part of turning around Times’ biased treatment of Israel.

  • Jack Weinberg

    Another key point in establishing this payment as ransom:
    The pastor who was held hostage verbally stated that the hostages were only let go after the money was delivered. Without the money, they wouldn’t have been freed.
    If that’s not “ransom”, I don’t know what is.

  • Laura berman

    I think you wrong and unfair

  • Jonah

    I hope the New York Times is reading my comment. Everyone at Algemeiner, it’s readers and everyone in the multitudes of country’s reading algemeiner on a daily basis know the truth and it’s the truth that sets you free, not spin. Obamas payment to Iran was a down payment in advance to finance and put in place those terrorists and weapons required for the decimation of Israel. Now the rest of the world has become so enamored over Obama the only truth their minds can digest is spin. Scripture states very clearly they will only beleive lies….the obamanites have delusional minds and they are confused they do not know what bathroom to use. Ask one they actually do not know from day to day whether they are a woman or a man and in order to resolve the delimma they will have to take it to the Supreme Court. I can see why Putin is nervous he has a lunatic who wants to bomb the world into an oblivion, in the name of Allah, and his voting base are confused as to what bathroom they should use. What do you do when you are up against an army of lunatics?

  • healer

    Soon your paper will not be fit to be put at the bottom of a bird cage….