The White House on Wednesday denied insinuations that a $400 million cash payment to Iran in January was a ransom to free four Americans that were being held in Tehran, saying that it was just coincidental.
The US State Department said the money was actually part of a $1.7 billion settlement to Iran for a decade-long legal dispute that was before an international tribunal in The Hague.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said:
“As we’ve made clear, the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim at the Hague Tribunal were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home,” Kirby said in a statement. “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.”
The State Department formally announced the settlement terms on Jan. 17 which was a day after the four Americans were freed. The four Americans were identified as Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who had been convicted of espionage last year; Amir Hekmati, a former Marine who had been held since 2011; Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor imprisoned since 2012; and a man only named as Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari.
Their release and the settlement deal also came on the same weekend that international sanctions on Iran were lifted after the United Nations nuclear agency declared Tehran had fulfilled its commitment to scale back its nuclear program.
Secretary of State John Kerry at the time said the nuclear agreement between Iran and the West and the Americans’ release “were not directly related,” although he believed the diplomatic process was eased thanks to the nuclear talks.
A Wall Street Journal report Tuesday characterized the Obama administration’s $400 million payment to Iran as a “secretly organized” airlift of euros, Swiss francs and other currencies given to Tehran.
It remains illegal for the U.S. to conduct a monetary transaction with Iran in American dollars.
The money was owed to the Islamic republic following a failed arms deal dating back to 1979, when Iran purchased American fighter jets, U.S. officials said.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, on Wednesday sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to appear at a future committee hearing to discuss the payment.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest also denied the suggestions that the money transfer to Iran was ransom or a secret.
“The United States, under President Obama, has not paid a ransom to secure the release of Americans unjustly detained in Iran and we’re not going to pay a ransom,” he said that in response to a Wall Street Journal article that said Washington secretly organized the cash airlift.
US Govt gives $400M cash to Iran the same time some Americans were freed but the Govt denies it was a ransom