A Wall Street Journal story published earlier this week said some at the Department of Justice were concerned about the timing of the $400 million cash payment to Iran because it would appear to be a ransom payment. “People knew what it was going to look like, and there was concern the Iranians probably did consider it a ransom payment,” one source told the WSJ.
It turns out we don’t have to guess how Iran saw the payment because they told us. The Daily Caller highlights a statement made by an Iranian Brigadier General seven months ago:
“This money was returned for the freedom of the U.S. spy [Jason Rezaian] and it was not related to the [nuclear] negotiations,” said Iranian Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Basij force, in January. Jason Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post, was one of the four American hostages released by the Islamic Republic.
And there is additional evidence this view was widespread. A documentary aired on Iranian television several months ago claims to show video of the pallets of money delivered to the country. From the Washington Free Beacon:
The footage, which could not be independently verified, shows images of large stacks of hard currency and features claims that the Obama administration sent this money over as part of an effort to free several U.S. hostages. The White House vehemently denied these claims this week following new reports about the cash exchange.
BBC Persian reporter Hadi Nili posted the footage on Twitter and described the footage as showing “pallets of cash” and quoting officials as saying “this was just part of the ‘expensive price’ to release Americans.”
This appears to be an English language version of the documentary. Despite being in English the claims made in the documentary are a bit hard to follow, but it does appear to say that the return of the money was one of the requests made by Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. prisoners. That makes the claims made by Saeed Abedini—that the Iranians were waiting for another plane to land before the prisoners were released—appear more plausible.
It’s fair to ask how reliable a documentary appearing on Iranian TV really is. However, that’s really beside the point. Iranian leaders believed the money was a ransom payment. Iranian television was saying it was part of a request by Iran in exchange for a release of prisoners. The point of not paying ransom to hostage-takers is to discourage future hostage taking. It really doesn’t matter what the U.S. government thinks about the deal. If the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps saw the money as tantamount to ransom then they are not discouraged.