The White House on Wednesday defended a deal with Iran to unfreeze billions of dollars in Iranian funds in exchange for U.S. prisoners, insisting it was not a ransom payment in the face of GOP criticism.
“This is not a payment of any kind. This is not a ransom. These aren’t U.S. taxpayer dollars. And we haven’t lifted a single one of our sanctions on Iran. Iran will be getting no sanctions relief,” John Kirby, a White House spokesperson on national security issues, said in a briefing with reporters.
“We will continue to counter the Iran regime’s human rights abuses. We’ll continue to counter its destabilizing actions abroad,” Kirby added.
The U.S. earlier this week reached a deal to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds that were being held by South Korea and to release five Iranians who were being held in U.S. custody in exchange for five American citizens being detained in Iran.
Kirby stressed that the unfrozen funds were not U.S. taxpayer dollars, but Iranian money that will still be subject to U.S. oversight.
The arrangement has been widely panned by Republicans.
“I am always glad when Americans are released from captivity,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “However, this agreement will entice rogue regimes, like Iran, to take even more Americans hostage. The ayatollah and his henchmen are terrorists and truly represent a terrorist state.”
“If we’re paying a billion dollars per kidnapped individual, then you’re going to see more kidnappings. That’s why you don’t negotiate with terrorists, that’s why you don’t negotiate with kidnappers. The idea of basically paying to release, in this effect, a hostage is a terrible idea,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said.
Kirby pushed back on that idea during Wednesday’s briefing, arguing that bad actors like those in Iran do not need additional incentive to detain Americans.
“This isn’t going to change their calculus necessarily of what they’ve been doing,” Kirby said.
“This is the deal that we were able to strike to secure the release of five Americans. It would be great, wonderful, if we could just pick up the phone, call the Mullahs, and say, ‘Hey, we want our Americans back. Send them back on the next plane,’” Kirby added. “But you and I both know that’s not going to happen, particularly with Iran. And getting Americans home requires decisions. Sometimes really tough decisions.”
Source: The Hill