The State Department says a $400 million cash payment to Iran was contingent on the release of American prisoners.
Spokesman John Kirby says negotiations over the United States’ returning Iranian money from a decades-old account was conducted separately from the prisoner talks. But he says the U.S. withheld delivery of the cash as leverage until the U.S. citizens had left Iran.
President Obama and Bill Clinton, both lawyers, seem to share a penchant for finely parsing the English language. Let’s go for a quick jaunt in the internet time machine, to two weeks ago:
“This wasn’t some nefarious deal,” Obama said.
“It’s been interesting to watch this story surface,” the president said. “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.”
“What we have is the manufacturing of outrage on a story that we disclosed in January,” he added later. […]
“We do not pay ransom for hostages,” he said. “And the notion that we would start now, in this high-profile way … defies logic.”
The payment was made in cash, Obama added, because the administration cannot send the rogue nation a check or wire transfer due to banking sanctions the U.S. and other nations have imposed on Iran.
“It is not at all clear to me why cash as opposed to a wire transfer has made this into a new story,” he said. “Maybe because it feels like some spy novel or some crime novel because cash was exchanged.” […]
“The issue is not so much that it was a coincidence as it is that we were able to have a direct discussion,” the president said. “[Secretary of State] John Kerry could meet with the foreign minister, which meant that our ability to clear accounts on a number of different issues at the same time converged.”
And most damning:
“We do not pay ransom for hostages,” he said. “The notion that we would start now and announce it to the world — even as we’re looking into the faces of other families whose loved ones are suffering — defies logic,” he said, his voice dripping with incredulity.
We suppose that’s true—depending on what the meaning of the word “ransom” is.