WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP)– Obama administration officials are defending the payment of $1.7 billion to Iran — including a delivery of an initial $400 million in cash on January 17th.
That was the same day Tehran agreed to release four American prisoners. Republicans are calling it ransom.
Testifying before a House panel today, officials told Congress that Iran wanted “immediate access” to the money being paid by the United States to settle an arbitration claim that went back decades.
Spokesman John Kirby previously said negotiations over the United States’ returning the 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.
The chairman of the House subcommittee holding the hearing, Republican Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, said the evidence that’s been presented makes it hard to believe the payment wasn’t ransom. And he asked the officials if they could guarantee that the money won’t be used to fund terrorism.
The State Department’s Christopher Backemeyer replied that he “can’t speak for every dollar that goes in and out of Iran.” But he said it was his understanding that the money is being used to meet “critical economic needs” in Iran.
The hearing was the first of several planned by Republicans who have opposed last year’s international accord to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
When Iran released the hostages in January, including journalist Jason Rezaian and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, the Obama administration denied that they had paid ransom to the country.
“With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” President Barack Obama said in a news conference earlier this month.
The president asserted at that news conference that the U.S. does not pay ransoms.
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