It has long been the policy of the United States government to not pay ransoms on American citizens who have been captured by foreign governments or terrorist groups. The fear is that if even one ransom is paid then it will increase the number of kidnappings of American citizens abroad
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However, it seems that policy is all but gone. It was strongly believed that a $400 million payment made by the United States to Iran earlier this month as part of a settlement on an arms deal was actually a ransom for four American hostages being released.
The White House and State Department both strongly denied that the payment was a ransom for the hostages, but in statements made this week by State Department chief spokesman John Kirby it seems that the State Department is changing their tune a bit.
BREAKING: State Dept. says $400 million cash payment to Iran was contingent on American prisoners' release.
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 18, 2016
“We, of course, sought to retain maximum leverage until after American citizens were released, and that was our top priority… If your top priority is to get your Americans out and you’re already having some issues about locating some of them, [then] you want to make sure that that release gets done before you compete that transaction.”
Kirby doubled down on the comments when specifically asked by a reporter. “In basic English you’re saying you wouldn’t give them the $400 million in cash until the prisoners were released? Correct?” asked the reporter.
“That’s correct,” responded Kirby.
According to a Wall Street Journal Report:
“Our top priority was getting the Americans home,” said a U.S. official. Once the Americans were “wheels up” on the morning of Jan. 17, Iranian officials in Geneva were allowed to take custody of the $400 million in currency, according to officials briefed on the exchange.
The payment marked the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration announced it had reached with Tehran in January to resolve a decades-old legal dispute traced back to the final days of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. His government paid $400 million into a Pentagon trust fund in 1979 for military parts that were never delivered because of the Islamic revolution that toppled him.
Many opponents of the deal say that this will only encourage more kidnapping and imprisonment of American citizens who are traveling abroad. The Obama Administration faced similar criticisms when they lifted the ban on American families paying private ransoms earlier in the president’s tenure.