Two weeks ago, President Obama was on camera stating definitively that the $400 million the U.S. sent to Iran at a time it was releasing American hostages was not a ransom.
On Thursday, his State Department corrected him.
State Department spokesman John Kirby was asked Thursday, “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 said.
But two weeks ago, Obama said, “We do not pay ransom.”
According to the New York Post, Obama was at an Aug. 4 news conference when he declared: “We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here, and we won’t in the future.”
He remark followed questions about the $400 million in cash, loaded on pallets in an airplane, that the U.S. delivered to Iran at the same time that American hostages being held by the rogue Islamic state were released.
“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,” he said.
The Post report noted, “He lectured the press for even raising the issue.”
Obama said: “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. 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.”
A cargo plane, reportedly unmarked, was tasked with delivering the pallets of cash to Iran to settle “a longstanding dispute with the Iranian regime over a never-completed arms deal from the 1970s,” the Post said.
Kirby was responding to questions about the money and the hostages after the Wall Street Journal said the airplanes, one with cash and the other with hostages, were linked.
WND reported the former chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence had no doubt, based on the timing and the secrecy, that the U.S. clearly bought off the Iranian captors.
The Wall Street Journal had broken the story, detailing what happened in January while most Americans were focused on the release of the prisoners.
“The Obama administration secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran, according to U.S. and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the operation afterward,” the story read.
“Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane, according to these officials. The U.S. procured the money from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland,” wrote reporters Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee.
“The money represented the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration reached with Iran to resolve a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal signed just before the 1979 fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi,” they wrote.
At that time, Kirby denied any connection between the massive money transfer and the freeing of the hostages.
“We just don’t pay ransom. It is our policy. This was not ransom. Any suggestion that it had anything to do with ransom is absolutely and utterly false. These were two separate processes run by two separate teams. Yes, they were done simultaneously, so I understand the coincidental nature of the timing. But it had absolutely nothing to do with ransom. We do not and will not pay ransom,” said Kirby on the Fox News Channel.
Former House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., didn’t buy the explanation.
“Absolutely it’s a ransom payment,” Hoekstra told WND and Radio America. “This is a president that has all along been willing to negotiate and make a deal, and if the deal included ransom he has been open to it.”
“If it walks like a duck, if it talks like a duck, it’s a duck. This is a ransom payment,” he said.
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich.:
Hoekstra said the idea that the Obama administration is horrified by the suggestion it paid ransom for hostages doesn’t even square with U.S. policy on the issue, a policy Obama unilaterally changed.
“He made it very, very clear this summer that if families wanted to pursue paying ransom for family members or friends who were being held hostage, the U.S. government would assist them in that process and would never, ever prosecute them,” Hoekstra said.
Prior to the policy change, the U.S. government forbade families of hostages from negotiating financial terms for the release of their loved ones and did threaten federal prosecution.
As a result of the policy shift, Hoekstra fears terrorists will declare open season on Americans abroad.
“This now clearly sets the precedent that if Iran, ISIS or other groups hold Americans hostage that they can now expect that the United States will negotiate with them and will pay them a ransom. Not always, but that option now exists where previously it did not,” Hoekstra said.
Even more, Hoekstra said Obama undercut the efforts of Americans to claim some of the $1.7 billion from Iran due to damages caused by Iranian-backed terrorism.
“They were going after the Iranians in U.S. courts to collect damages that the Iranians had imposed on these individuals,” he said. “It’s not like they were only litigating whether this was Iranian money or not. There were also U.S. citizens who were attempting to litigate and get settlements for the damages that they received from Iran.”
In addition to the convenient timing of the money transfer, Hoekstra said if there was no connection to the hostage release, why were Americans only learning about it now?
“If it’s purely a coincidence, then why all the secrecy?” he asked. “Why pallets of money coming from the Hague on an unmarked plane flying out of Switzerland? Why no transparency to Congress? Why no transparency to the American people as this was being negotiated?”
“If it’s all above board, then give us the transparency up front,” Hoekstra added.
Hoekstra is a fierce opponent of the Iranian nuclear deal, but he said at the very least the U.S. should have insisted upon the hostages being released as part of the deal. But the former chairman says it’s just another example of Obama giving away the store to America’s adversaries and getting almost nothing in return. While pleased the hostages are free, he said Obama has a record of making poor deals.
“They have fundamentally turned America’s foreign policy head over heels, now negotiating ransom payments for hostages, embracing the Muslim Brotherhood, embracing the regime in Iran, embracing Cuba. The list goes on and on,” Hoekstra said.
“In almost all of those negotiations, America has gotten very little benefit from massive changes in our foreign policy.”
Additional reporting by Greg Corombos.