State Dept: Iran payment contingent on release of American detainees

Two weeks after initially stating a Jan. 17 $400 million cash payment to Iran was not connected to the freeing of Americans held by Tehran, State Department spokesman John Kirby reversed tack on Thursday and admitted the sum paid was contingent on the release of American captives.

“The payment of the $400 million was not done until after the prisoners were released.  We took advantage of that to make sure we had the maximum leverage possible to get our people out and get them out safely,” Kirby said in a State Department briefing.

Three U.S. prisoners, Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, were freed in January; one other, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, opted to remain in Iran and a fifth, Matthew Trevithick, was freed later.

Immediately following the details of the payment revealed in early August, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry denied the payment had been a ransom.  President Obama attempted to clarify the nature of the payment, cash primarily in euros and Swiss francs, was necessary because the U.S. and Iran do not enjoy an international banking link.  Obama later added the absence of a banking connection ruled out a wire transfer.

The act of transferring cash has led to widespread speculation Washington was bribed to gain the release of the prisoners. One prisoner, Saeed Abedini, admitted Iranian officials told him the freed men would not be allowed to leave a Tehran airport until Iran had confirmation on the movement of a second plane.

An additional $1.3 billion payment in interest on the $400 million has been completed, although the White House has refused to reveal the method of payment.

Republican House members have vowed to hold hearings on the transfer of cash and formally requested documents related to the trade from the Treasury Department.

 

[Reuters] [Photo courtesy Fox News]