White House denies cash transfer to Iran amounts to prisoner ransom

Reports of a link "are completely false," State Department spokesperson John Kirby said on Wednesday.

American sailors arrested in Iran (photo credit: ARAB MEDIA)
American sailors arrested in Iran
(photo credit: ARAB MEDIA)
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration rejected on Wednesday any linkage between the delivery of $400 million in cash to Iran last January and the Islamic Republic’s subsequent release of American political prisoners.
The money transfer, which The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday featured wooden pallets of cash delivered quietly in an unmarked cargo plane, was described at the time by both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry as the settlement of a “long, outstanding claim” at the Iran-US Claims Tribunal in The Hague.
But the Journal said it spoke to US officials who acknowledged that Iran wanted “something tangible” in exchange for their release of four Americans, held on tenuous legal grounds. The Jerusalem Post could not independently verify this part of the report.
Officials in the White House and State Department claim that efforts to connect the two agreements announced on the same day – the prisoner release and the payment – are political, and assert they were transparent about the transfer of funds from the start.
Reports of a link “are completely false,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday. And Kirby’s colleague at the White House echoed the sentiment, at times expressing frustration.
“This $400m. is actually money that the Iranians had paid into a US account in 1979 as part of a transaction to procure military equipment. That military equipment, as it relates to the $400m., was not provided to the Iranians in 1979 because the shah of Iran was overthrown,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “It was hard for the United States to make an argument, in this case, that we could just keep the money.
“The United States does not have a banking relationship with Iran,” Earnest continued, who said the deal saved US taxpayers “billions” of dollars in further litigation.
The story, Earnest charged, is really about “how badly opponents of the Iran [nuclear] deal are struggling to justify their opposition.”
Some of those opponents harshly criticized the White House following the report.
“President Obama is so desperate to defend his disastrous Iran policy that he has resorted to ransom payments, effectively putting a price on every American citizen who travels abroad,” said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Illinois), a vocal opponent of the nuclear deal currently working on legislation that would complicate Iran’s purchase of US-made Boeing aircraft.
Announcements of the prisoner release and the tribunal agreement coincided with implementation of the nuclear deal reached last year with world powers.
“With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this [monetary] dispute as well,” Obama said at the time.