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State Dept: $400M Iran payment was ‘leverage’ for prisoner release

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The $400 million cash payment sent to Iran earlier this year was used as “leverage” to win the release of American prisoners, the State Department said Thursday.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the negotiations regarding the $400 million were conducted separately from talks about the American prisoners. But he did not deny that the U.S. withheld the cash until three American prisoners had left Iran.

{mosads}“Because we had concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release … we of course naturally … sought to retain maximum leverage until after the Americans were released,” Kirby said Thursday, according to ABC News.

“It would have been foolish, imprudent and irresponsible for us not to try to maintain maximum leverage. So, if you’re asking me was there a connection in that regard in the end game? I’m not going to deny that.”

He spoke after a Wall Street Journal report came out Wednesday saying that U.S. officials wouldn’t allow Iranians to take control of the $400 million in cash sent to the country until three American prisoners had left Iran.

The Wall Street Journal report said that after a Swiss Air Force plane carrying the three Americans left Tehran on Jan. 17, an Iranian cargo plane with the cash was allowed to return from Switzerland.

Republican National Committee (RNC) spokesman Michael Short said in a statement that what the State Department admitted Thursday is the “dictionary definition of a ransom payment and a complete contradiction of what they were saying just two weeks ago.”

“It’s time for the Obama White House to drop the charade and admit it paid a ransom to the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Short said.

“Hillary Clinton’s support for this dangerous blunder, which has put a price on the head of every American citizen, shows once again she does not have the judgement to be president.”

RNC chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement to ABC News that the Obama administration should admit it paid a $400 million ransom. 

“President Obama has foolishly put a price on the head of every American abroad and it should be no surprise that Iran has since detained more U.S. citizens,” he said.

The White House has denied that the $400 million was a ransom payment. President Obama said earlier this month that the payment “wasn’t some nefarious deal.”

Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month defended the payment, denying it was a ransom for the release of the American prisoners.

The payment was part of a $1.7 billion settlement to resolve a dispute from an arms deal that occurred in the 1970s.

Updated at 6 p.m. 

Tags Hillary Clinton John Kerry

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