White House: $1.7B Iran payment not 'ransom'

White House: $1.7B Iran payment not 'ransom'
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The White House is denying that the $1.7 billion sent to Iran to settle an outstanding claim this weekend was in any way tied to the release of five American prisoners.

GOP critics of the payment are “wrong” to indicate that the payment amounts to "ransom," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Tuesday, following a whirlwind weekend that saw a number of milestone developments in the Obama administration’s engagement with Iran.


In addition to the implementation of the international nuclear accord and a prisoner swap to secure the release of five Americans, the Obama administration also sent Iran $1.7 billion that it had been owed for decades.  

Roughly $400 million had been sitting in “an escrow account” since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Earnest said on Tuesday.

On Sunday, the U.S. paid that money back, as well as $1.3 billion in interest.

The payment is separate from the roughly $100 billion that Iran receives from the lifting of sanctions, about half of which has already been earmarked for other uses.  

On Tuesday, Earnest said that Iran had originally pushed for $7 or $8 billion dollars in payment to settle the old claim, making the $1.7 billion payment a product of the administration’s tough negotiating.

“That’s an indication of how the taxpayers were very well served,” Earnest said.

“This is Exhibit A in the administration pursuing tough, principled diplomacy in a way that actually ends up making the American people safer."

Critics of the nuclear agreement and the administration’s engagement with Iran accuse the White House of emboldening Tehran by flooding its economy with cash.

On Monday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called the $1.7 billion settlement “an astonishing figure.”

“This was a stand-alone agreement that didn't have to be undertaken, unless it's just part of the ransom that we had to pay to get innocent Americans back from Iranian captivity,” Cotton said on CNN.