The Obama administration acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that the $400 million cash payment to Iran last January was used as “leverage” to gain the release of American prisoners, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.
Payment was leverage, not a ransom
The State Department confirmed that the U.S. refused to allow Iran possession of the money until a plane carrying the released Americans had departed Tehran.
If you’re asking me was there a connection in that regard, at the end game, I’m not going to deny that. We took advantage of leverage that we felt we could have to make sure that they got out safely and efficiently. — John Kirby – Department of State spokesman
The State Department continues to insist that the payment was not a ransom payment to gain the release of the five Americans, which included a reporter from The Washington Post. Rather, Mr. Kirby said negotiators had “deliberately leveraged” Iran’s desire for the funds. He insisted that the payment was not a ransom. “We don’t pay ransom,” Mr. Kirby stated.
Long-standing U.S. policy not to pay ransom
The United States has a long-standing policy against paying ransom on the theory that doing so will encourage the kidnapping and detention of Americans aboard. The policy was widely debated in 2014 when journalist James Foley was beheaded by ISIS. The terror group had demanded a ransom payment of over $100 million for his release, but the U.S. refused to pay.
President Barack Obama has continued to insist that the $400 million payment to Iran did not constitute a ransom payment. “We do not pay ransom. We didn't here, and we won't in the future,” the President said earlier this month.
Not everyone agreed with the definition of the difference between leverage and ransom that Mr. Kirby provided, or agreed with the President’s assertion that no ransom was paid. Sen Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said the cash payment sends a message that “the United States will pay cold, hard cash for hostages.”
If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. If a cash payment is contingent on a hostage release, it’s a ransom. The truth matters and the President owes the American people an explanation. — Sen Ben Sasse (R., Neb.)