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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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Microblogging Site Twitter Releases Tweets Linked to Russia, Iran

"We may also release incremental additions to existing datasets if we believe the additional information could materially impact research findings," Twitter said

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Twitter releases data linked to Russian, Iranian info campaigns. Pixabay

With the goal of improving understanding of how foreign influence campings operate on Twitter, the microblogging site has now released massive datasets of accounts linked to potential influence campaigns originating in Russia and Iran.

These large datasets released this week comprise 3,841 accounts affiliated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA), originating in Russia, and 770 other accounts, potentially originating in Iran.

Totalling over 360 gigabytes – including more than 10 million Tweets and more than 2 million images, GIFs, videos, and Periscope broadcasts ?the data store provides a picture of how state-sponsored agencies have used the Twitter platform, technology news website Ars Technica reported on Friday.

IRA allegedly ran information campaigns on several social media platforms to undermine the political process in the 2016 US presidential election.

TWitter
The logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. vOA

With Twitter coming under scrutiny for its failure to stop the spread of misinformation during the election, the microblogging site, earlier this year, committed to the US Congress and the public to provide regular updates and information regarding its investigation into foreign interference in political conversations on Twitter.

Since that time, Twitter has shared examples of these types of content posted on Twitter by IRA and provided the public with a direct notice if they interacted with these accounts.

In August this year, Twitter also disclosed details of another attempted influence campaign it identified as potentially located within Iran.

The datasets released this week are aimed at enabling independent academic research and investigation into the nature of foreign influence campaigns, Twitter said.

Twitter
Twitter on a smartphone device. Pixabay

“We are committed to understanding how bad-faith actors use our services. We will continue to proactively combat nefarious attempts to undermine the integrity of Twitter, while partnering with civil society, government, our industry peers, and researchers to improve our collective understanding of coordinated attempts to interfere in the public conversation,” Twitter said.

A preliminary look at the data by Ars Technica revealed that a common tactic used by the IRA was to create “local news” accounts for major US cities, seeding them with posts linking to local news outlets.

The accounts, such as “Atlanta Online,” “Baltimore Online,” “Baton Rouge Voice,” “Chicago Daily News,” and “Dallas Top News” would also include tweet-length news headlines with no link, the report said.

Also Read- Habitability Of Surrounding Planets Affected By Super Flares Of Red Dwarfs: NASA

Twitter said if it identifies additional attempted information operations on Twitter in the future, it will release similar datasets in a timely fashion after completing its investigations.

“We may also release incremental additions to existing datasets if we believe the additional information could materially impact research findings,” Twitter said. (IANS)