[guest post by Dana]
It looks like it was a $400 million ransom payment, but Josh Earnest is saying Hell no!
The Obama administration secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran, according to U.S. and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the operation afterward.
Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane, according to these officials. The U.S. procured the money from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland, they said.
The money represented the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration reached with Iran to resolve a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal signed just before the 1979 fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The settlement, which resolved claims before an international tribunal in The Hague, also coincided with the formal implementation that same weekend of the landmark nuclear agreement reached between Tehran, the U.S. and other global powers the summer before.
“With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” President Barack Obama said at the White House on Jan. 17—without disclosing the $400 million cash payment.
Lest you think the timing of the payment and the prisoner release suspicious, don’t. It was just a happy coincidence:
“As we’ve made clear, the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim…were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “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.”
At a presser today, Josh Earnest demonstrated that famous most-transparent-administration-ever attitude:
Here are the arguments that it was a ransom:
U.S. officials acknowledged that Iranian negotiators wanted the cash to show they had gotten something in return.
Despite Secretary of State John Kerry claiming the prisoner release “unlocked” diplomatic channels, Iran has since arrested two additional Iranian-Americans.
Senior Iranian defense officials claimed the cash was indeed a ransom payment.
Iranian news sites reported the money arrived on the same day the American prisoners went home.
Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi, a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, bragged: “Taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies.”
And arguments that it was not:
Earnest and senior U.S. officials denied the cash was ransom. (Hahahaha!)
The payment was part of a settlement between Iran and the U.S. over a failed arms deal from 1979.
Different teams in both Iran and the U.S conducted the negotiations for the payment and prisoner release.
It was the first installment of the settlement, which is worth $1.7 billion overall.
Then, this afternoon we learn that not everyone thought this was a good idea:
Senior Justice Department officials objected to sending a plane loaded with cash to Tehran at the same time that Iran released four imprisoned Americans, but their objections were overruled by the State Department, according to people familiar with the discussions.
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.
Apparently, there was also concern that this could weaken the president’s Iran deal before leaving office.
Further, the exorbitant dollar amount wasn’t even seen as exorbitant to officials. Their concerns centered around the world’s perception of the U.S. paying a ransom.
And there were other concerns:
The Justice Department raised other objections to the Iran deals. Prosecutors were concerned that the U.S. would release too many Iranian convicts and drop too many pending criminal cases against people suspected of violating sanctions laws.
They prevailed regarding some of the suspects—those accused or suspected of crimes of terrorism or other violence—but the objections on others were overruled, according to the people familiar with the discussions.
The cash transfer and prisoner exchange coincided with the formal implementation that same weekend of the landmark nuclear agreement reached between Tehran, the U.S. and other global powers the summer before.
Funny, no comment from Hillary Clinton …