Obama Defends Iran Cash Payment: ‘It Wasn’t a Secret’

Photo via the WH

President Barack Obama on Thursday strongly defended the nuclear deal and hostage arrangement with Iran amid an uproar over reports that the U.S. delivered $400 million in cash to Tehran in January.

“We announced these payments in January — many months ago. That wasn’t a secret,” Obama said in a press conference at the Pentagon on Thursday. “We announced them to all of you. This wasn’t some nefarious deal. And at the time, we explained that Iran had pressed a claim before an international tribunal about them recovering money of theirs — that we have frozen — that as a consequence of them working its way through the international tribunal, it was the assessment of our lawyers that we were now at a point where there was significant litigation risk and we could end up costing ourselves billions of dollars. It was their advice and suggestion that we settle, and that’s what these payments represent.”

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama Administration sent $400 million dollars — in “wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies” — to Iran at the same time four American hostages were released. The paper quoted Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, as accusing the Obama administration of paying a “ransom to the ayatollah for US hostages.”

Obama defended the administration’s decision to send cash and disputed the notion that it was a ransom payment for the release of American hostages. “We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here, and we won’t in the future,” Obama said. “Those families know we have a policy that we don’t pay ransom. 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.”

The president also pointed out that the nuclear deal has been working for over a year despite initial warnings and pessimistic predictions that the Iranians would violate the terms of the agreement. “It’s now been well over a year since the agreement with Iran to stop its nuclear program was signed and by all accounts it has worked exactly the way we said it was going to work,” Obama said. “It’s not just the assessment of our intelligence community, it’s the assessment of the Israeli military and intelligence community — the country that was most opposed to this deal that acknowledges that this has been a game changer and that Iran has abided by the deal, and that they no longer have the sort of short-term breakout capacity that would allow them to develop nuclear weapons.”

“If there is some news to be made,” Obama continued, “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. But of course that wasn’t going to happen. Instead what we have is the manufacturing of outrage in a story that we disclosed in January.”

Secretary of State John Kerry also defended the payment, insisting that it saved U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars in further interest payments. “We believe this agreement for the $400 million that was paid in interest and settlement of the case actually saved the American taxpayer potentially billions of dollars,” Kerry said in a press conference in Buenos Aires. ““There was no benefit to the United States of America to drag this out. It would have worked against the interests of our taxpayers and with the nuclear deal done, the prisoners released, the time was right to take advantage of that and resolve the dispute in the way that it was resolved.”

Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence seized the opportunity to reshape the narrative of the race, accusing the administration of paying ransom to Iran and allowing the ayatollahs embarrassing the United States.

“It’s so sad, so disgusting,” Trump said during a campaign rally in Portland, Maine on Thursday. “We have a president who’s incompetent. They want to embarrass — they want to embarrass our president.”

Speaking at a town hall in Virginia Beach, Pence said, “Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have essentially put a price tag on the head of every American traveling abroad. [Trump] won’t pay ransoms to terrorists or those that support them, they will pay the price.”