A Washington Post editorial published Wednesday suggested a transfer of $400 million in cash earlier this year, which the administration later admitted was linked to the release of U.S. prisoners, may have whetted Iran’s appetite for jailing more Americans.
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S foreign-policy legacy will include significant, if temporary, curbs on Iran’s nuclear program — but not the broader detente with the Islamic republic that he hoped for. More and bitter evidence of that came Tuesday, when Tehran announced that two American citizens and a permanent U.S. resident had been sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “cooperating with the hostile U.S. government.”…
The long sentences handed to the Namazis are grim but unsurprising. The Revolutionary Guard wishes to head off Western investments that might infringe on its own business interests; and it may hope that its prisoners can eventually be exchanged for lucre. Though it was officially part of a separate claims settlement, the Obama administration’s delivery of $400 million in cash to the Iranian regime at the time of the release of Mr. Rezaian and other prisoners may have whetted the appetites of Tehran’s jailers.
Recall that the Obama administration worked out a prisoner swap for Americans being held in Iran but also settled a lawsuit stemming from a very old arms deal. The two things were allegedly separate but when it was revealed that $400 million in cash had been loaded onto a plane and delivered to Iran the same day as the prisoner release the administration was forced to deny the payment was a ransom.
The Wall Street Journal revealed in early August that even people within the Department of Justice worried that the timing would make the transfer of cash look like ransom. Meanwhile, there were several indications that Iran did indeed see the transfer as a ransom payment, including a statement by an Iranian general who said, “This money was returned for the freedom of the U.S. spy [Jason Rezaian] and it was not related to the [nuclear] negotiations.”
With the pressure from the media increasing the Obama administration initially refused to say when the cash plane had landed in Iran. A spokesman for the State Department agreed when a reporter for the AP asked if it would be a “waste of time” to keep asking about the timing of the cash transfer.
Finally on August 17th the Wall Street Journal revealed that the departure of the plane containing the $400 million in cash was held up until the American prisoners were in the air. The next day the State Department finally admitted the money was used as leverage in the prisoner release during the daily press briefing. That admission came after explicit denials of any link from two different State Department spokespeople earlier in August. For instance:
State Dept. spokesman Mark Toner said this during the Aug. 4th daily briefing: pic.twitter.com/3Yo90F81ci
— John Sexton (@verumserum) August 18, 2016
Despite all of this, within a few days the White House attempted to distance itself from the admissions made by the State Department and once again denied there had been any quid pro quo. As the Obama administration continued to spin the payout to Iran as nothing particularly unusual, the State Department was forced to admit it could find no historical precedent for using cash to settle an international dispute. An outside historian did identify one precedent, from the Mexican-American war in 1848.
I’m rehashing all of this because it shows how desperate the Obama administration was to avoid admitting what it had done. It was a denial which lasted 7 months and which even now the White House denies was tantamount to ransom. But as I pointed out several times in August, it doesn’t ultimately matter what the administration believes about this transaction. They can deny this was ransom until the end of their days and it won’t make a bit of difference. What matters is what the people who received the plane load of cash think. As the Post editorial suggests, there is reason to think elements in Iran saw it as ransom and are now imprisoning Americans in order to try their luck again.
Update: From the Free Beacon:
Iranian news sources close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, which has been handling prisoner swaps with the United States, reported on Tuesday that Iran expects “many billions of dollars to release” those U.S. citizens still being detained.”
“We should wait and see, the U.S. will offer … many billions of dollars to release” American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer, who was abducted by Iran after the United States paid Iran the $1.7 billion, according to the country’s Mashregh News outlet, which has close ties to the IRGC’s intelligence apparatus.
So it seems this is no longer just speculation anymore.