The Obama administration says the secret delivery of $400 million in cash to Iran was not a ransom payment, it just happened to coincide with the release of four U.S. citizens. Wednesday afternoon the Wall Street Journal published a follow up story noting that some at the Department of Justice thought making the cash haul was a bad idea:
The timing and manner of the payment raised alarms at the Justice Department, according to those familiar with the discussions.
“People knew what it was going to look like, and there was concern the Iranians probably did consider it a ransom payment,’’ said one of the people…
Justice Department officials didn’t object to the $1.7 billion settlement, which they viewed as a bargain given decades of inflation and the circumstances of the original deal, these people said.
But the concerns in the department show that even within the Obama administration there were worries that the pallets of cash could send the wrong signal to Iran—and potentially to others—about U.S. policy when it came to hostages.
While the White House denies this transfer had anything to do with the prisoner release, they admit Iranians wanted it to show they were getting something for agreeing to release the Americans. From CNN:
US officials conceded that the Iranian negotiators involved in the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to coincide with the release of the Americans to prove a deliverable for the exchange even as they argued against the characterization of it as a ransom payment.
“As we’ve made clear, the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim at The Hague Tribunal were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said, referring to the $1.7 billion payout that the $400 cast installment was part of.
“Not only were (the) two negotiations separate, they were conducted by different teams on each side, including, in the case of the Hague claims, by technical experts involved in these negotiations for many years,” he said.
So the prisoner release was on one track while the cash delivery was on another. And yet, both teams were clearly aware of the Iran deal negotiations and of each other. How else could the Iranians negotiating the prisoner release have sought to have the cash delivery “coincide” with their agreement?
About that coincidence, are we 100% certain the prisoner release was going to go forward regardless of whether or not we sent the cash haul to Iran? That’s the real question here: What would have happened if America had refused to deliver the cash? If there’s a good chance the Iranians would have then decided to balk at the prisoner release then this was a ransom payment.
What the administration seems to be saying is that, yes, Iran may have seen this as a ransom payment but the U.S. did not see it that way. That’s nonsense. The whole point of not paying ransom is to avoid encouraging more hostage taking in the future. If Iran saw this as ransom then they are not discouraged regardless of how the State Department saw it then or what the administration says about it now.