White House: We’re Not Paying Ransom to Iran, We’re Just Making Assets They Couldn’t Access ‘More Accessible’

On Thursday’s broadcast of CNN’s “The Lead,” White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby claimed that the reported unfreezing of $6 billion in assets with some limits in exchange for Iran releasing five detained Americans “is not a ransom.” Instead, we’re talking about taking an account “that has not been made accessible” to Iran, and “making that one account that has been in existence for several years more accessible to the Iranians.”

Host Jake Tapper asked, “Just this afternoon, Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence said, ‘Biden has authorized the largest ransom payment in American history to the mullahs in Tehran.’ What would your response to that be?”

Kirby answered, “That he’s wrong, just plain and simple. Look, while I can’t tell you everything that we’re doing and everything that this is, I can certainly tell you what it’s not. And there’s not going to be a ransom payment. There’s not going to be sanctions relief. There [are] no U.S. taxpayer dollars that are going to be applied to getting these Americans home. And this $6 billion, without getting into the details of the negotiations, I think there’s a little confusion about what this account is all about. This is part of a system of accounts that were set up in the previous administration that allowed some countries to import Iranian goods, non-sanctionable goods, and that the Iranians could pull on those accounts, those payments, through a special system only used for humanitarian purposes. And that’s what we’re talking about here. It’s a pre-existing account that was set up in the previous administration, which they allowed other countries to set up, that has not been made accessible to the Iranians. They’d be able to have some access to it, but only for humanitarian purposes.”

Later, Tapper asked, “What would you say to somebody out there…who says, okay, so, this money — let’s say it’s $6 billion, because I don’t have another figure to go by and you didn’t offer an alternating one — $6 billion in Iranian assets that are unfrozen. Whether it’s — you say it’s not American taxpayer dollars, and that’s accurate, still, it does seem like we are giving the Iranians something. And certainly, I could understand why the common man or woman out there might say, that’s a ransom payment, I’m glad these Americans are getting home, but that’s a ransom payment?”

Kirby responded, “Well, a couple of things here: First of all, negotiations are about giving and taking, and there was no universe in which we were going to get these five Americans home without some bartering, some compromising with the Iranians. And that bargaining is ongoing right now. So, again, I don’t want to get too far ahead of what it’s going to actually look like, the terms — the scope of the negotiation and the deal. But on this ransom, this is not a ransom. And it’s important to remember that the account from which money could be accessed by the Iranians is an account set up in the previous administration that allowed other countries to import non-sanctionable goods. It’s not something that the Biden administration created, but it’s a series of accounts that Iran has pulled on before. They haven’t been able to pull on one account, and what we’re talking about is the possibility of making that one account that has been in existence for several years more accessible to the Iranians. But it would be, again, under the same level of limits. They could only pull from that account for humanitarian purposes, and there is an oversight mechanism that’s already built into that process. So, it’s not ransom, and again, no U.S. taxpayer dollars involved here.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett


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