U.S. officials wouldn’t let a plane carrying $400 million take off for Iran until three U.S. prisoners departed Iran in January, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The mechanics of the exchange all but confirm accusations that the $400 million in cash was a ransom payment. Saeed Abedini, a former Iranian hostage told The Wall Street Journal, Iranian intelligence officials told him his plane could not take off until the movements of a second plane were confirmed. The second plane is like the U.S. cargo plane carrying $400 million in cash.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps General Reza Naghdi further confirmed the ransom story in January, telling Iranian state media “Taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies.”
Obama administration officials dispute the ransom narrative, claiming the payment was part of a series of scheduled payments and happened to coincide with the hostage release. At the time, President Obama credited “strong American diplomacy,” and touted his deal with Iran for making the negotiations possible.
“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,” Department of State Spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
The White House tried to push the narrative that the payment was separate from any hostage negotiations, but admitted at the time, the hostage release was deeply interconnected to the nuclear deal. “With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” Obama said on Jan. 17.
The $400 million was promised by the U.S. to Iran under a larger $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration made with Iran. The Shah of Iran reportedly paid billions of dollars for weapons that the U.S. never delivered after the Islamic revolution in 1979. Obama agreed to repatriate the money, saying the U.S. would likely have to pay the sum back under a Hague arbitration settlement, and that his solution would save taxpayers money.
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