The money represented the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration reached with Iran to resolve a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal signed just before the 1979 fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi....I'm just trying to understand the position of the Obama administration. There's a dispute dating back to the time of the Shah which is still in arbitration, which we were probably going to lose. I can't see when the arbitration was going to conclude or how much we were anticipating losing — only that the claim was for $10 billion and that our side is portraying $1.7 billion as a bargain. We're supposed to be happy our prisoners got free and to see the bargaining over the old claim as an independent deal, one that is advantageous to us because $1.7 billion is so much less than $10 billion. The other side made the deal, we're told, because they need the money and they get $400 million right away, in cash, without the delays and complications they'd have getting the money through the arbitration.
Senior U.S. officials denied any link between the payment and the prisoner exchange. They say the way the various strands came together simultaneously was coincidental, not the result of any quid pro quo....
But U.S. officials also acknowledge that Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible....
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have said they were certain Washington was going to lose the arbitration in The Hague, where Iran was seeking more than $10 billion, and described the settlement as a bargain for taxpayers.
Iranian press reports have quoted senior Iranian defense officials describing the cash as a ransom payment. The Iranian foreign ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The $400 million was paid in foreign currency because any transaction with Iran in U.S. dollars is illegal under U.S. law. Sanctions also complicate Tehran’s access to global banks.
“Sometimes the Iranians want cash because it’s so hard for them to access things in the international financial system,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the January cash delivery. “They know it can take months just to figure out how to wire money from one place to another.”...
But they get one more thing: They can portray the payment as ransom for the prisoners.
My question is: How can they get the ability to boast that they got cash for the prisoners but we're not supposed to see it as cash for prisoners? Either it looks like ransom or it does not. How can it look like ransom for their purposes, in their propaganda, but not look like ransom in our propaganda?
One way out of that set of questions is to say: What matters is what it really is and not how it looks. It's not ransom. It's just 2 independent deals, and we got a great deal on one of them because we allowed the look of a ransom to be created, and they wanted that look so badly that they gave up a lot to get it. Yes, they are now doing their propaganda, and that's giving us an image problem, but we understood that was why we were getting that great $1.7 billion bargain. Now, the Obama administration is hoping that our people will be smart enough to understand that explanation and say thanks for resolving all those complicated problems to our advantage and for maintaining our longstanding commitment to not paying ransom.
But the reason to want a reputation for not paying ransom is to deter the capturing of Americans for ransom. If it is believed that we pay ransom — even if we did not — that deterrence is lost. I suppose the answer to that is that we did indeed lose something by giving some basis for thinking that we paid ransom, but it was worth it to get that $1.7 billion bargain.