US: $400M to Iran con­tin­gent on prisoner re­lease

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICAS -

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion said Thurs­day that a $400 mil­lion cash pay­ment to Iran seven months ago was con­tin­gent on the re­lease of a group of Amer­i­can pris­on­ers.

It is the first time the US has so clearly linked the two events, which crit­ics have painted as a hostage-ran­som ar­range­ment.

State De­part­ment spokesman John Kirby re­peated the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s line that the ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­turn the Ira­nian money — from a mil­i­tary-equip­ment deal with the US-backed shah in the 1970s — were con­ducted sep­a­rately from the talks to free four US cit­i­zens in Iran. But he said the US with­held the de­liv­ery of the cash as lever­age un­til Iran per­mit­ted the Amer­i­cans to leave the coun­try.

“We had con­cerns that Iran may re­nege on the prisoner re­lease,” Kirby said, cit­ing de­lays and mu­tual mis­trust be­tween coun­tries that sev­ered diplo­matic re­la­tions 36 years ago. As a re­sult, he ex­plained, the US “of course sought to re­tain max­i­mum lever­age un­til af­ter the Amer­i­can cit­i­zens were re­leased. That was our top pri­or­ity.”

Both events oc­curred Jan. 17, fu­el­ing sus­pi­cions from Repub­li­can law­mak­ers and ac­cu­sa­tions from GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump of a quid pro quo that un­der­mined Amer­ica’s long­stand­ing op­po­si­tion to ran­som pay­ments.

In a speech Thurs­day night in Char­lotte, North Carolina, Trump ac­cused Pres­i­dent Barack Obama of ly­ing. “He de­nied it was for the hostages, but it was. He said we don’t pay ran­som, but he did. He lied about the hostages, openly and bla­tantly,” Trump said.

Kirby spoke a day af­ter The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported new de­tails of the criss­cross­ing planes on that day. US of­fi­cials wouldn’t let Iran bring the cash home from a Geneva air­port un­til a Swiss Air Force plane car­ry­ing three of the freed Amer­i­cans de­parted from Tehran, the pa­per re­ported. The fourth Amer­i­can left on a com­mer­cial flight.

Ear­lier this month, af­ter the rev­e­la­tion the US de­liv­ered the money in pal­lets of cash, the ad­min­is­tra­tion flatly de­nied any con­nec­tion be­tween the pay­ment and the pris­on­ers.

“Re­ports of link be­tween prisoner re­lease & pay­ment to Iran are com­pletely false,” Kirby tweeted at the time.

The money comes from an ac­count used by the Ira­nian govern­ment to buy Amer­i­can mil­i­tary equip­ment in the days of the shah. The equip­ment was never de­liv­ered af­ter the shah’s govern­ment was over­thrown in 1979 and rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies took Amer­i­can hostages at the US Em­bassy in Tehran. The two sides have wran­gled over that ac­count and nu­mer­ous other fi­nan­cial claims ever since.

Obama has said his ne­go­tia­tors se­cured the US a good deal on a busy diplo­matic week­end that also in­cluded fi­nal­iz­ing the seven-na­tion nu­clear ac­cord. But he and other of­fi­cials have con­sis­tently de­nied any link­ages.

“We ac­tu­ally had diplo­matic ne­go­ti­a­tions and con­ver­sa­tions with Iran for the first time in sev­eral decades,” Obama said Aug 5, mean­ing “our abil­ity to clear ac­counts on a num­ber of dif­fer­ent is­sues at the same time con­verged.”

“This wasn’t some ne­far­i­ous deal,” he said.

The agree­ment was the re­turn of the $400 mil­lion, plus an ad­di­tional $1.3 bil­lion in in­ter­est, terms that Obama de­scribed as fa­vor­able com­pared to what might have been ex­pected from a tri­bunal set up in The Hague to rule on pend­ing deals be­tween the two coun­tries.

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