“Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus claimed President Obama “secretly gave the Iranians $400M at the same time 4 Americans were released from their custody” and linked to a Wall Street Journal story that has the right up in arms this fine Wednesday morning.” [Politicususa]
Had the Wall Street Journal, and the RNC chair’s staff, done a bit of quick work on the Internet they’d have found the press briefing from January 19, 2016:
Q Thank you very much. Appreciate it, Josh. On Sunday, we learned that the United States made a payment to the government of Iran of $1.7 billion. Was this tied to the deal that led to the freedom of the Americans that were being held in Iran?
MR. EARNEST: Jon, this is actually the result of a long-running claims process that had been at The Hague. In 1979, there was obviously an Iranian revolution that abruptly severed relations between our two countries. And prior to that revolution, the U.S. government had entered into an agreement with the then-Iranian government to transfer about $400 million in military equipment to the Iranian government. Once the revolution took place, obviously that equipment was not transferred, but we also didn’t return Iran’s money either. So that money essentially was held in what could, I think — essentially in an escrow account. And for more than 30 years now, the Iranians have been using this claims process at The Hague to try to recover that $400 million.
The $400 million has been held in ‘escrow’ since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
This resolution that we agreed to was to return the $400 million and also to pay about $1 billion in interest. Now, the reason that this ends up being a very good deal for taxpayers is that our exposure, when it came to paying interest, could have been much higher. The Iranians were actually seeking $7 billion to $8 billion in interest payments. And I think that’s an indication of how the interests of taxpayers were very well served by reaching this settlement.
Thus, the Iranians gave up some $7 billion dollars in claims for interest payments in return for getting $1.7 billion for the interest and the return of the escrow account.
Q Okay, but as I understand it, the Department of State announced this payment of $1.7 billion to the government of Iran just before the plane carrying the freed Americans landed in Geneva. You’re really telling me that this is an absolute coincidence that this payment just happened to coincide with the precise moment when the American prisoners were flying to freedom?
MR. EARNEST: Jon, I think we’ve made pretty clear that this is not a coincidence. The fact is, these kinds of diplomatic opportunities —
Q So it was — because Paul Ryan has suggested this was a ransom payment. You saw his statement.
MR. EARNEST: He’s wrong about that.
Q But you’re saying that this is connected with the freedom of —
MR. EARNEST: What I’m suggesting is that the successful resolution of our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program created a series of diplomatic opportunities for the United States that we’ve capitalized on. And we used that opening and we used that deeper diplomatic engagement to secure the release of four American citizens who are being unjustly held inside of Iran. And we used that diplomatic opening to resolve a longstanding financial claim that the Iranians had against the United States in a way that ultimately saves U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, potentially up to $6 billion or $7 billion. So this is exhibit A in the administration pursuing tough, principled diplomacy in a way that actually ends up making the American people safer and advancing the interests of the United States more effectively than military actions.
Short form answer: The United States got the Iranians to give up on $6 B or $7 B in longstanding claims for interest payments AND we got hostages released. Now, we might want to ask would the Republicans prefer that we’re still on the hook for up to $8 billion in interest payments, if the issue became more protracted, and the target of a claim on the escrow account – or – would they prefer we traded $1.7 billion in interest payments for at least $6 billion in interest payments and resolved the 37 year old dispute over the escrow account? Looks to me like the Iranians left at least $4.3 billion on the table. The Iranians leave at least $4.3 billion on the table, and we get four American hostages returned – not a bad deal for us.
When you can go to the bargaining table and get 2/3rds of what you want, it’s not a bad deal for you. Yes, House Speaker Paul Ryan raised the specter of paying for hostages back in January 2016. So, we might want to call this “recycled poutrage.” However, the hostages situation also allowed the US to get the interest payment claims resolved to the benefit of American taxpayers. That’s called hard bargaining.