Foreign affairs chairman: ‘It was ransom’

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( – House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce said in an interview with Fox News today that the $400 million payment that the Obama administration made to Iran as it was releasing a group of Americans it had imprisoned was in fact ransom.

“It was ransom,” said Royce.

Royce’s statement came after State Department Spokesman John Kirby conceded at the department’s press briefing today that the final hand over of the $400 million—which was flown to Iran in cash—was not made until the prisoners were released.

“When you are 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, imprudent, irresponsible for us not to try to maintain maximum leverage,” Kirby said at today’s briefing. “So, if you are asking me if there was a connection in that regard at the endgame, I’m not going to say that.”

A reporter asked Kirby: “So, getting away from the word leverage, which–in basic English, you’re saying you wouldn’t give them $400 million in cash until the prisoners were released? Correct?”

Kirby replied: “That’s correct.”

“It was ransom,” Chairman Royce said in an interview with reporter James Rosen of Fox News. “We now know it was ransom. And on top of that it put more American lives at risk, and we’ve emboldened Iran. We’ve encouraged them, frankly, to take more hostages and put more American lives at risk of being taken hostage.”

At an Aug. 4 press conference, President Barack Obama was asked to respond to criticisms that the $400 million payment to Iran was a “ransom payment.” In part of his response, Obama said: “We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here. And…we won’t in the future—precisely because if we did, then we would start encouraging Americans to be targeted…”

Here is part of Obama’s response as transcribed by the White House:

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.  What is your response to critics who say the $400 million in cash that you sent to Iran was a ransom payment?  Was it really, simply a pure coincidence that a sum that was — a payment that was held up for almost four decades was suddenly sent at the exact same time that the American prisoners were released?  And can you assure the American people that none of that money went to support terrorism?
THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  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.  Josh did a briefing on them.  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 had frozen; that, as a consequence of its 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.  And it wasn’t a secret.  We were completely open with everybody about it.  And it’s interesting to me how suddenly this became a story again.  That’s point number one.

Point number two, 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.  And we have stood up an entire section of interagency experts who devote all their time to working with these families to get these Americans out.  

But those families know that 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 into the faces of other hostage families whose loved ones are being held hostage and say to them that we don’t pay ransom — defies logic.  So that’s point number two.  

We do not pay ransom.  We didn’t here.  And we don’t — we won’t in the future — precisely because if we did, then we would start encouraging Americans to be targeted, much in the same way that some countries that do pay ransom end up having a lot more of their citizens being taken by various groups.