ARLINGTON, Va. — President Obama lashed out at media interest in his administration’s January transfer of pallets of cash to Iran as U.S. hostages were being released as something salacious-sounding that isn’t.
“It is not at all clear to me why it is that cash, as opposed to a check or a wire transfer has made this into a new story,” Obama said in a press conference at the Pentagon. “Maybe because it kind of feels like some kind of spy novel or you know, some you know, crime novel because cash was exchanged.”
Obama had wrapped up a meeting with his National Security Council to get a progress update on the fight against ISIS, but was quickly asked about whether the $400 million was a ransom payment or if the cash could have ended up funding terrorism.
The settlement with Iran over a shah-era claim — money Iran gave the U.S. for weapons that were never delivered — was announced at the same time the nuclear deal was implemented and the hostages were released: $400 million plus $1.3 billion interest.
“This wasn’t some nefarious deal,” Obama insisted. “…It was not a secret. We were completely open with everybody about it. And it is interesting to me how suddenly this became a story again.”
Congressional Republicans said the administration hid details of the airlift from lawmakers while Iran openly stated they believed they were demanding and receiving ransom. Former hostage Saeed Abedini told Fox Business Network that they sat on the tarmac waiting for another plane to arrive before taking off.
“They told us ‘you’re going to be there for 20 minutes,’ but it took like hours and hours,” Abedini said. “We slept at the airport.” He added that his captors “didn’t talk about money,” and he didn’t get any other details about whether the plane they were waiting for arrived.
“We do not pay ransom for hostages. We’ve got a number of Americans being held all around the world, and I meet with their families, and it is heartbreaking,” Obama continued at his press conference. “…Precisely because if we did ,we would start encouraging any Americans to be targeted, much in the way that some countries that do pay ransom end up having a lot more of their citizens being taken by various groups.”
Iran is now holding three U.S. citizens and a permanent U.S. resident. That’s not including former FBI agent Bob Levinson, who was kidnapped in 2007.
Obama said the suspect timing of the cash settlement “is not so much that it was a coincidence, as it is that we were able to have a direct discussion” with Iran because of the nuclear talks.
“…And since we were in a conversation with them, it was important for us to push them hard in getting these Americans out.”
The president steered toward the nuclear agreement, ripping critics as the deal “has worked exactly the way we said it was going to work.”
“You will recall that there were all these horror stories about how Iran was going to cheat, and this was not going to work, and Iran was going to get $150 billion dollars to finance terrorism, and all these kinds of scenarios, and none of them have come to pass,” he said. “…So what I am interested in, is that if there is some news to be made, why not have some of these folks who were predicting disaster say, ‘you know what, this thing actually worked.’ Now that would be a shock. That would be impressive.”
Instead, Obama added, “what we have is the manufacturing of outrage in a story that we disclosed in January — and the only bit of news that is relevant on this is the fact that we paid cash.”
“The reason that we had to give them cash is precisely because we are so strict in maintaining sanctions, and we do not have a banking relationship with Iran, that we couldn’t send them a check, and we could not wire the money,” he said.