Americans being freed from Iranian captivity were not allowed to leave the Islamic Republic until “another plane” had arrived, one of the hostages said in an interview on Thursday, lending credence to the perception that the U.S.’s $400 million cash payment to Iran at the same time as the hostage transfer amounted to a ransom payment.
Former hostage Pastor Saeed Abedini told the Fox Business Network’s Trish Regan that he had asked an Iranian policeman why his plane had not yet departed—“the plane was there, pilot was there, everyone was ready that we leave the country”—and was told, “We are waiting for another plane. And until that plane doesn’t come [sic] we never let you go.”
The interview came on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report last week that revealed that the Obama administration had sent Iran $400 million in cash in an unmarked cargo plane at the same time as the American hostages were released in January. This led to criticism and accusations of paying ransom, which seemed borne out, the Journal reported, by the fact that “U.S. officials…acknowledge that Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible.” Indeed, senior Justice Department officials objected to the payment due to concerns that it would appear to be ransom.
The State Department was asked at its daily press briefings on both Wednesday and Thursday about the timing of the two relevant flights: the flight with the hostages leaving Iran and the flight with cash arriving there. Fox News’ James Rosen asked State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Wednesday if he could assure the American people that “the hostages were in the process of being set free prior to the touching down of this plane with the pallets of cash.” Toner responded that he could not answer this “conclusively.” When pressed on this point by the Associated Press’ Matt Lee the next day, Toner reiterated, “I don’t believe we’ve gotten clarity on that…In terms of the timing, I don’t have it.”
President Barack Obama insisted during a press conference on Thursday that the payment did not constitute a ransom.
However, in an interview with Mary Kissell of The Wall Street Journal, Omri Ceren, managing director at The Israel Project (which publishes The Tower) explained that contrary to the administration’s claim, the hostages and the $400 million payment were, in fact, discussed simultaneously. “The actual negotiations over this $400 million were brought up in the negotiations over the hostages. They were taking place at the Intercontinental Hotel, under foreign sponsorship—[the talks] were intertwined. The line that The Wall Street Journal used was ‘dovetail.’ We know why the administration didn’t want to tell Congress who was in the room.”
[Photo: Iran Freedom / You Tube ]