Released Prisoner: Iranians said we couldn't leave until another plane arrived

Saeed Abedini, one of the prisoners released from Iran as part of a deal negotiated earlier this year by the State Department, says his plane was delayed for hours because Iranian authorities were waiting for another plane.

Abedini told Fox Business reporter Trish Regan, “They told us, you are going to be there for 20 minutes but it took like hours and hours.” He continued, “We slept at the airport and when I asked him why you don’t let us go—because the plane was there, pilot was there, everyone was ready that we leave the country—they said that we are waiting for another plane and until that plane doesn’t come, we never let you go.” Abedini says no one ever mentioned money only that they were waiting on another plane.

When asked if he believe the U.S. paid a ransom for his release, Abedini ducks the question and eventually says “I prefer that the politicians answer this question.” It’s not clear why he is raising this story if he’s not prepared to go all the way and draw that conclusions. He’s clearly suggesting that the Iranians were waiting for the cash.

At least some parts of his story are definitely true. The delay of Abedini’s flight leaving Iran was widely reported at the time of the prisoner release. A Washington Post account dated January 17th notes that Secretary Kerry explained the delay as a result of the failure to add the wife of another prisoner to the manifest:

Although the prisoners were released Saturday, the Swiss Air plane that was there to take them out of Iran was delayed many hours before takeoff. Administration officials said Obama waited to speak only after their departure was confirmed.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the delay was due to last-minute misunderstandings over whether Rezaian’s mother, Mary Rezaian, and his wife were on the flight manifest. The departure was also complicated by flight crew rest rules, he said.

Mary Rezaian, who was in Iran while her son was put on trial on espionage and related charges, was not officially part of the agreement; she was placed on the plane manifest at the request of the Americans. Both she and Salehi were initially prohibited from boarding.

What would have been really helpful here is a follow up question about the official explanation, i.e. was there a problem with the manifest? Did you see the Iranians refuse to allow Mrs. Rezaian on the flight? Perhaps someone will do a follow up interview and ask Abedini those questions.

Of course, even if Secretary Kerry’s story is true that doesn’t mean Abedini’s story is necessarily false. There could have been a problem with the manifest which took some time to correct and the Iranians could have been waiting for a plane full of cash.

We know from the Wall Street Journal story yesterday that some in the Department of Justice were concerned Iran did see the transfer of cash as a ransom payment. So it’s not outside the realm of possibility the Iranians were acting as if it were a ransom payment, i.e. making sure it arrived before the prisoners left the ground.