The U.S. State Department continues to insist that a $400 million cash payment airlifted to Iran earlier this year was not a ransom payment for the release of four American hostages but new details initially revealed by The Wall Street Journal beg the point.
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, were released January 17. A Jewish prisoner also held hostage — Bob Levinson — somehow was not included in the released. Oddly, the Iranians claim they have no knowledge of his whereabouts. As that was taking place, a separate aircraft had landed in Tehran with the cash. State Department spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Thursday the money was held back until the prisoners were freed.
“In basic English you are saying you wouldn’t give [them] the 400 million in cash until the prisoners were released, correct?” asked a reporter during the briefing on Thursday.
“That’s correct,” Kirby replied.
Kirby said negotiations for the return of the money to Iran, which was related to a failed 1979 military equipment deal between the two countries, were separate from the talks about the prisoners. Another $1.3 billion is expected to be paid to Iran in interest on the failed deal.
But Abedini told reporters that he and the other hostages were kept waiting at the airport in Iran for more than 20 hours, and that he was told by a senior Iranian intelligence agent that their departure would depend on the arrival of a second plane.
The State Department has denied these claims.
Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama likewise insisted the money was not a quid pro quo. “This wasn’t some nefarious deal,” he told journalists during a news conference Aug. 4. “We do not pay ransom for hostages.”Hana Levi Julian