Editorials

Obama misled Americans about $400 million payment to Iran

President Barack Obama in early August should have told the American people the full truth about payments to Iran and the release of three hostages.
President Barack Obama in early August should have told the American people the full truth about payments to Iran and the release of three hostages. The Associated Press

It’s disappointing that President Barack Obama was not fully honest with the American people earlier this month when a controversy arose over a $400 million payment made in January by U.S. officials to Iran.

Obama’s line at the time sounded pretty straightforward: “This wasn’t some nefarious deal. It wasn’t a secret. … We do not pay ransom for hostages.”

The official explanation was that the money was part of the $1.7 billion that the U.S. government owed Iran for military equipment it bought from America decades ago; the equipment was never delivered. Separately, the Iranian government released three American prisoners in January. The two events weren’t tied together, Obama said in early August.

But one surprising detail revealed at that time was that the debt was paid in cash, delivered on pallets, and on an unmarked plane. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized the payment, saying, “We’ve just learned about a $400 million ransom payment. Now Obama said yesterday, ‘It has nothing to do with it.’ It’s another lie.”

Fast forward to this Thursday and a clearer truth emerged.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States “took advantage of the leverage” it had in January, essentially refusing to hand over the $400 million to Iranian officials until the prisoners were released.

That clearly is not what Obama said in early August.

The president could and should have told the full truth: The administration was tying the payment and release of prisoners together.

The “ransom” charge still would have come from Republicans. But Americans would have had more complete information available to them, to help them decide whether the Obama administration had made a savvy deal using “leverage,” as it now claims.

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