The US President Barack Obama Thursday defended his decision to authorize a$400 million cash payment to Iran that coincided with the country’s release of American prisoners in January.
Mr. Obama, speaking at a news conference at the Pentagon, pushed back on Republican charges that the cash delivery amounted to ransom.
“We do not pay ransom for hostages,” he said. “We didn’t here, and we won’t in the future, precisely because if we did we’d start encouraging Americans to be targeted.”
The $400 million cash payment to Iran,reported by The Wall Street Journal this week, was part of a $1.7 billion settlement of a lengthy financial dispute between the U.S. and Iran. The two governments reached the settlement during negotiations that American officials have said were separate from talks about the release of prisoners.
The settlement was announced in January, including a planned $400 million payment. But the administration had refused to say how and when the $1.7 billion would be transmitted to Iran.
Mr. Obama said Thursday the payment had to be in cash because the U.S. and Iran have no banking relationship, eliminating the possibility of a check or wire transfer. “The reason we had to give them cash is precisely because we’re so strict in maintaining sanctions,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama dismissed the significance of the payment method, saying it’s gaining attention “maybe because it feels like some spy novel or some crime novel.” He said the timing wasn’t because it was a ransom payment for the release of prisoners, but because the U.S. was having diplomatic conversations with Iran for the first time in decades.
Administration officials continued Thursday to refuse to divulge exactly when the $400 million cash shipment arrived in Iran, further fueling Republican claims that the cash delivery was akin to paying ransom.
Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in Argentina, said when asked about the cash transfer, “I know a lot about it.”
Mr. Kerry said the settlement was “a policy of common sense to get a better deal, reduce the money we would have had to pay, save the American taxpayers dollars, and do it through a completely separate track that had nothing to do with the Iran nuclear deal.”