Image: Tehran 1993: An Iranian woman stands in front of a mural depicting Khomeini. (Armineh Johannes/Sygma/Corbis)
The following transcript provided by The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren from yesterday’s exchange between State Department Spokesman John Kirby, Fox News’ James Rosen and AP’s Brad Klapper says it all about the Obama administration’s deceitfulness re #Iransom:
KLAPPER: Beyond saying there’s no ransom, you’ve said several times, a lot of people from different podiums in this government, have said there was no quid pro quo. What you just described is by definition a quid pro quo, is it not?
KLAPPER: How is it not? You said they would not get the money until they were released. Quid, quo.
KIRBY: Thank you for the Latin expert. The Latin lesson, the Latin lesson.
KLAPPER: I mean, what am I missing in a quid pro quo that you have just outlined?
KIRBY: Brad, they were gonna get this money anyway, because The Hague Tribunal decided that they were going to get their money back. And-
KLAPPER: No, they hadn’t decided-
KIRBY: There was a negotiation inside The Hague Tribunal that they were going to cover the $400 million principal and then some interest that we negotiated, which saved the taxpayers a lot of money. That process was moving forward and it was moving forward on an independent track. Separately and distinctly we were also in talks with them about getting our Americans back. That was also done by a different team and moving forward. These two tracks came together in a very finite period of time. And it would have been- given the fact that Iran hadn’t proved completely trustworthy in the past, it would have been irresponsible for us to not, since we- since we knew this payment was coming and coming soon, to not hold it up until we made sure we had our Americans out.
KLAPPER: Which is why everyone called it a quid pro quo at the beginning, and you disputed that. So I don’t quite understand how that changes anything. You’re saying it would have been imprudent not to link the payment, the delivery of the money, to the release of the prisoners, but you’re saying the delivery of the money wasn’t a quid pro quo related to the release of the prisoners because there’s a back story.
KIRBY: Because The Hague Tribunal had decided, the negotiation had been settled. That process was moving forward and would have moved forward regardless. But because it all happened in a short period of time, yes, we took advantage of that to make sure we had the maximum leverage possible to get our people out and get them out safely.
KLAPPER: So it was a quid pro quo?
KLAPPER: You took advantage of it and you made it a quid pro quo.
KIRBY: We took advantage of leverage that we thought we could have to make sure that they got out safely and efficiently.
JAMES ROSEN: So you were holding the Iranians’ money hostage?
KIRBY: No, James.
KLAPPER: They paid the ransom. Because they released the prisoners.
KIRBY: It was their money, it’s their money. They were gonna get it anyway.
ROSEN: Would you at least agree, John-
KIRBY: Look, guys, we had to, you know, if we hadn’t done that, and if for some reason the Iranians did play games and we didn’t get the Americans out, and we hadn’t tried to use that leverage, then I could understand the disdain and the criticism here. But this was a sound decision made in the end game of two separate negotiation tracks.
KLAPPER: I’m making no value judgment on the decision. I’m just trying to get you to say what it is, which is very simple.
KIRBY: I have described what it is for the last 15 minutes. I haven’t used the Latin phrase that you like, but it doesn’t mean that I haven’t described what happened.
KLAPPER: Listen, this happened in January and this if the first time you’ve ever said flat out that they wouldn’t get the money until the prisoners were released. That took, let’s count it, what, seven months? Why all the beating around the bush? If it was such a great and noble decision?
KIRBY: The only reason that we’re having this discussion is because of the press coverage, Brad. We’ve said all along-
KLAPPER: So, evil reporters have made you dredge this up?
KIRBY: No. I’ve never called you guys evil, I’ve called you other things, but never evil.
KLAPPER: I mean, you can’t blame press coverage because you didn’t say what this was seven months ago.
KIRBY: We did describe it seven months ago.
KLAPPER: You did not say it was contingent, this was contingent on that. Now you’re saying-
KIRBY: We said-
KLAPPER: – flatly out that this was, this payment was contingent on the release of the prisoners.
KIRBY: I said-
KLAPPER: You did not say that in January.
KIRBY: I said this was, as I said before, we of course wanted to seek maximum leverage in this case as these two things came together at the same time.
ROSEN: John, you said that everyone all along, at all points, has been completely above board about this. But you would agree that what you’re telling us today represents a new factual disclosure from the administration, does it not?
KIRBY: I certainly would agree that this particular fact is not something that we’ve talked about in the past, but if you go back and look at the press coverage, your own coverage, of this when it happened, nobody made any bones about the fact that these two process [sic] were coming together at the same time and we took advantage of the opportunity we had, with the closure of the nuke deal, with The Hague Tribunal, and with talks to get our Americans back, we took full advantage of that, and I don’t think anybody in the administration is going to make any apology for having taken advantage of those opportunities to get these Americans home.
ROSEN: And would you agree that a reasonable observer could look upon a situation in which cash is withheld until prisoners are released, as something akin to ransom?
KIRBY: Well, an observer, whoever he or she may be, can look at this however they want. I’ve described now over the last 10 or 15 minutes what happened and what our thought process was going through that, and I’ll let others decide for themselves. I got to get going here, guys.
The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren chronicles the various efforts of members of Congress to receive details on the Obama administration’s $1.7 billion settlement payment to Iran stemming from a failed 1979 weapons deal:
Jan 21 – Rep. Pompeo sent a letter to the State Department with six questions about the payment and the possibility it was a ransom [b]:
The timing and details of the U.S. cash transfer of $1.7 billion to Iran indicates it might be a ransom payment… What is the relationship between the $1.7 billion payment and the release of the hostages?… Did the $400 million claim or the $1.3 billion interest payment ever come up… in conversations with the Iranians about the release of American hostages?… What is the source of the funding for the $1.3 billion interest payment… is it taxpayer-funded?
Feb 3 – Rep. Royce sent a letter to the State Department with ten questions about the payment and the possibility it was a ransom [c]:
An explanation of any steps taken by the Obama Administration to make clear that this settlement was not linked to the release of American hostages… An explanation of why the timing of financial settlement coincided with the release of five innocent Americans held hostage by Iran… An explanation of why the Committee was not consulted on such a consequential matter.
Feb through the middle of March – The State Department declined to respond to the Royce and Pompeo letters until mid-March. Then they sent each lawmaker a separate response letter, neither of which addressed the ransom questions. Instead the response letters confirmed the payment was made out of an original Trust Fund linked to the arms deal and a taxpayer-funded Judgment Fund. Both response letters had identical language saying further details could not be provided in an unclassified setting [d][e]:
It would not be in the interest of the United States to discuss further details of the settlement of these claims in an unclassified letter due to the ongoing litigation at the Tribunal. However, we would be prepared to provide a closed briefing on such issues if it would be useful to you.
May 25 – Pompeo and Sen. Cornyn filed legislation requiring a report on whether the $1.7 billion was a ransom [f]:
The President shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report that includes… whether or not Federal funds, including the $1,700,000,000 payment… were paid to Iran, directly or indirectly, to effect the release of– (i) the members of the United States Navy who were detained…; or (ii) other United States citizens, including Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, and Matthew Trevithick, the release of whom was announced on January 16, 2016.
June 1 – Royce send a follow-up letter to his previous one, noting that the State Department had not addressed questions about whether the payment had been a ransom, and again asking for details. The administration has still not responded to his letter [g]:
[T]he Department’s reply largely failed to answer my requests… I sought an explanation of why the timing of this financial settlement coincided with both… the nuclear agreement and the release of five innocent Americans held hostage by Iran… However, the Department’s reply not only failed to provide this information, it did not even mention the nuclear agreement or the release of innocent Americans.
June 23 – Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Vargas sent a letter to the GAO requesting a review of the status of the Trust Fund money. The letter included past reports going back to 1979 casting doubt on the administration’s public claims [h]:
A July 25, 1979, GAO report, Financial and Legal Implications of Iran’s Cancellation of Arms Purchase Agreements (FGMSD-79-47) states… the total Iranian equity in the FMS program may not be determined for years; however, the Department of Defense (DOD) estimated at the time that $80 million would remain in the Iran FMS Trust Fund… GAO provided additional details of the ongoing process of resolving trust fund issues in January 1980, but again noted that total equity in the fund would not be determinable for years.
July 14 – Sens. Lankford and Fischer floated legislation to force the administration to provide information about how transfers like the $1.7 billion were and would be conducted [i]:
If a payment under this section is made to a foreign state… the Secretary of the Treasury shall make available to the public… (A) A description of the method of payment. (B) A description of the currency denominations used for the payment. (C) The name and location of each financial institution owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by a foreign state or an agent of a foreign state through which the payment passed or from which the payment was withdrawn…