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US publicly announced $400 Million Payment to Iran as ‘Leverage’ in Release of Prisoners

The prisoners were The Washington Post's Tehran bureau chief, Jason Rezaian; Marine veteran Amir Hekmati; Christian pastor Saeed Abedin; and a fourth man, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari

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President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza). Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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August 20, 2016: On Thursday, for the first time the Obama administration clearly and publicly said a cash payment of $400 million to Iran was used as leverage to ensure the release of a group of American prisoners being held by Tehran.

Earlier this month, in August, President Barack Obama denied that the payment to Iran on the same day as a hostage release was “some nefarious deal,” pointing out that the transfer was announced in January, a day after implementation of the U.S. nuclear deal with Tehran.

On Thursday, State Department spokesman John Kirby repeated the administration’s position that the negotiations to return the Iranian money, the result of an aborted arms deal in the 1970s with the U.S-backed shah were conducted separately from the talks to free four U.S. citizens in Iran.

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“We had concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release,” Kirby told reporters, citing years of mutual mistrust between the two countries. “Obviously, when you’re inside that 24 hour period and you already now have concerns about the endgame in terms of getting your Americans out, it would have been foolish, and prudent, irresponsible, for us not to try to maintain maximum leverage.

“So if you’re asking me was there a connection in that regard at the endgame, I’m not going to deny that,” he added.

Jason Rezaian. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Jason Rezaian. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The prisoners were The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, Jason Rezaian; Marine veteran Amir Hekmati; Christian pastor Saeed Abedin; and a fourth man, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, whose disappearance had not been publicly known before he was freed.

The cash transfer and the release of the hostages — both on January 17 — came at the same time as Iran’s deal with the United States and five other world powers restraining Tehran’s development of nuclear weapons, along with the lifting of sanctions that had hobbled Iran’s economy.

Critics, especially those who oppose the Iran nuclear deal, have termed it a ransom payment. Republican lawmakers also criticized the action, saying it undermined the longstanding U.S. opposition to ransom payments.

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Iranian media reports have quoted senior defense officials as saying they considered the cash as a ransom payment.

On the day of the transfer, non-U.S. currency cash — in euros and Swiss francs among others — was stacked on wooden pallets and flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane.

It was the first installment on a $1.7 billion settlement stemming from the failed U.S. weapons pact with Iran in 1979 just before its last monarch, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was toppled. The U.S. dispatched the cash in foreign currencies because any transaction with Iran in dollars is illegal under U.S. law. (VOA)

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U.S. Library of Congress will not collect every tweet on twitter

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FILE - The Twitter app is seen on a mobile phone in Philadelphia, April 26, 2017
U.S. Library of Congress will not collect every tweet on twitter. VOA

US, Dec 31, 2017: The U.S. Library of Congress says it will no longer collect every single tweet published on Twitter as it has been doing for the past 12 years.

The library said this week that it can no longer collect everything across the entire social media platform because of recent changes Twitter has made, including allowing longer tweets, photos and videos.

It said in a blog post this week that its first objective with collecting and archiving tweets was “to document the emergence of online social media for future generations.” The library says it has fulfilled that objective and no longer needs to be a “comprehensive” collector of tweets.

FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2013 file photo, the Library of Congress is seen in Washington.
FILE – In this Dec. 19, 2013 file photo, the Library of Congress is seen in Washington. VOA

The Library of Congress said it will still collect and archive tweets in the future, but will do so on a more selective basis. It said going forward “the tweets collected and archived will be thematic and event-based, including events such as elections, or themes of ongoing national interest, e.g. public policy.”

The library said it generally does not collect media comprehensively, but said it made an exception for public tweets when the social media platform was first developed.

The library said it will keep its previous archive of tweets from 2006-2017 to help people understand the rise of social media and to offer insight into the public mood during that time. “Throughout its history, the Library has seized opportunities to collect snapshots of unique moments in human history and preserve them for future generations,” it said.

“The Twitter Archive may prove to be one of this generation’s most significant legacies to future generations. Future generations will learn much about this rich period in our history, the information flows, and social and political forces that help define the current generation,” it said. (VOA)