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USD 400 million given to Iran was not hostage ransom: Obama

Friday, Aug 5, 2016,12:15 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Washington | US President Barack Obama has said the USD 400 million given to Iran was not a ransom for the release of four American prisoners, saying the whole amount was given in cash as they do not have a banking relationship with the country.

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, we couldn’t send them a check and we could not wire the money, Obama told reporters at a Pentagon news conference yesterday.

Responding to questions about a report of ‘The Wall Street Journal’ that said the US transferred a plane loaded with hard cash amounting to USD 400 million to Tehran coinciding with the release of four American prisoners by Iran in January, Obama questioned the justification of writing such a story.

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. Maybe because it kind of feels like some kind of spy novel or you know crime novel because cash was exchanged, he said.

After the story was first reported by The Wall Street Journal early this week, the White House is having a tough time in defending the decision as the opposition Republican party and the Trump campaign has made it an election issue and alleging that it was a ransom paid to the Iranians.

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, Obama said. That as a consequence of 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 suggestions that we settle. That’s what these payments represent, he added. 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, the US president as he strongly refuted allegations that US aid any ransom. 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. We have stood up an entire section of interagency experts who devote all of 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, Obama said.

The notion that we would somehow start now in this high profile way, and announce it to the world even as we are looking into the faces of other hostage families, families whose loved ones are being held hostage and say to them that, we don’t pay ransom, defies logic, he said.

Obama said if the US did pay any ransom it 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. He said the cash was paid so that Iran would ship a whole bunch of nuclear material out and close down facilities to make sure it does not have breakout nuclear capacity.