The State Department admitted Thursday that the US would not hand over $400 million in cash to Iran until it released four American hostages — two weeks after President Obama insisted the payment was not a “ransom.”
State Department spokesman John Kirby was asked at Thursday’s press briefing: “In basic English, you’re saying you wouldn’t give them $400 million in cash until the prisoners were released, correct?”
“That’s correct,” Kirby replied. In an Aug. 4 press conference, President Obama said the opposite. “We do not pay ransom. We didn't hear, and we won’t in the future,” the president told reporters, speaking of the Jan. 17 payment and hostage release.
Families “know we have a policy that we don’t pay ransom. And the notion that we would somehow start now, in this high-profile way, and announce it to the world, even as we’re looking in the faces of other hostage families whose loved ones are being held hostage, and saying to them ‘We don’t pay ransom,’ defies logic,” Obama added at the time.
He lectured the press for even raising the issue.
“It’s been interesting to watch this story surface. Some of you may recall, we announced these payments in January. Many months ago. There wasn’t a secret. We announced them to all of you. [Press secretary Josh Earnest] did a briefing on them. This wasn’t some nefarious deal,” the president said. “It wasn’t a secret. We were completely open with everybody about it and it is interesting to me how suddenly this became a story again.”
The US claims the money — delivered in cash stacked aboard an unmarked cargo plane — was part of a settlement of a longstanding dispute with the Iranian regime over a never-completed arms deal from the 1970s.
Kirby continued to maintain Thursday that “the two negotiations were separate,” referring to the hostage release and arms deal.
Kirby spoke after the Wall Street Journal reported that the departures of the crisscrossing planes — the one with the $400 million and the one with the four Americans — were linked.