Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY
Fox News host Stuart Varney mischaracterized new details about the United States’ $400 million payment to the Iranian government, claiming that the State Department admitted that the money was a “ransom payment” for American prisoners. In reality the payment, stemming from a “decades-old” agreement, was “conducted separately from the prisoner talks” and was withheld as “leverage until the US citizens had left Iran.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on August 3 that the Obama administration “organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran.”
Right-wing media distorted news of the cash transfer -- which related to a settlement reached in 1979 “over a failed arms deal” that was resolved in The Hague -- to falsely claim the transfer had been done in secret and that the payment was ransom.
The Journal then reported on August 18 that the cash exchange was “specifically timed to the release of several American prisoners held in Iran.”
State Department spokesman John Kirby reportedly said that although “the US withheld delivery of the cash as leverage until the US citizens had left Iran,” the negotiations over transferring the money were “conducted separately from the prisoner talks.”
Fox host Stuart Varney seized upon Kirby’s statement to falsely claim that the State Department “basically admitted that the Journal story is correct,” and that “this is a ransom payment.” Varney also said, “[it’s] very difficult to say that’s not ransom.”
But the payment indeed was not ransom, as Kirby explained in an August 18 State Department press briefing. Kirby noted that the money was given to Iran after the prisoners had been released in an effort to “retain maximum leverage,” not before, as a ransom payment typically happens.
Kirby also noted that the payment was timed with the prisoner release because “We were able to conclude multiple strands of diplomacy within a 24 hour period, including implementation of the nuclear deal, the prisoner talks, and the settlement” in question. Kirby made clear that “we deliberately leveraged that moment to finalize these outstanding issues nearly simultaneously” because of “concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release” and “mutual mistrust” between the two countries.