The Obama administration and the opposition are at odds over payment to Tehran. For the State Department, the payment was leverage to ensure prisoners released, not ransom. The money was part of a military contract with the shah before the Islamic Revolution. Republicans and the US right attack the White House.
Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The US State Department has said that a US$ 400 million payment to Iran was used as "leverage" in the release of five US prisoners.
Spokesman John Kirby explained that the payment was negotiated separately from the release, but that it was withheld until the Americans had left Iran. He insisted that this was not ransom.
Five Americans held in Iran were released in mid-January in exchange for seven detained Iranians. According to the Wall Street Journal, the US airlifted US$ 400m (in euros and Swiss francs) worth of cash to Iran on the same day.
The timing of both events has caused an outcry from Republicans, who accused the Obama administration of funding the historic enemy.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump did not spare his criticism against to the current occupant of the White House, saying that the president had lied about the hostages and the ransom payment, and against his rival Hillary Clinton who was secretary of state in Obama's first term.
The intricate story of prisoners exchange dates back to mid-January, when a final agreement was being worked out on the Iranian nuclear issue to partially lift international sanctions against Tehran.
On 16 January, Iran and the major powers (US, Russia, China, France, UK and Germany) accepted the Vienna Agreement of 14 July 2015.
On the same day Washington and Tehran announced an "unusual" prisoners exchange. The Islamic Republic released four Americans and an Iranian-American, including Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, whilst the United States showed “clemency” and released seven Iranians held in US prisons.
The next day, 17 January, US President Barack Obama administration announced that it had agreed to pay Iran US$ 1.7 billion to settle a case related to the sale of military equipment to the shah of Iran prior to the Iranian revolution and the breaking of diplomatic relations the following year.
The claim, following a decision by The Hague Tribunal, included a two-part payment: the return of US$ 400 million of Iranian money and roughly .3 billion interest.
Following the controversy generated by the Wall Street Journal article, the Obama administration admitted that it paid the US$ 400 million on 17 January, although the president made clear that it was not "ransom."
However, the manner in which the money was delivered raised eyebrows. As US State Department spokesman John Kirby said, the government used it as "leverage" to ensure the release of US prisoners held in Iran.
In fact, the plane carrying the money left from Geneva (Switzerland) only after the Americans left Iranian soil.
Mr Kirby added the US had "concerns" that Iran may recant on its pledge to return the prisoners, which is why it waited to release the payment.
"It would have been foolish, imprudent and irresponsible for us not to try and maintain maximum leverage," he said.
For the president’s opponents, this is the very definition of ransom payment.