The White House Wednesday called “ill-advised” a bill in the U.S. House that would prohibit ransom payments that ultimately would benefit Iran.
The bill, Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act, grew out of anger over a $400 million payment to Tehran that was released after Iran freed three American prisoners. The administration said the money was used as leverage in winning the Americans’ release. The money was from a 35-year-old arms deal and was held until the three prisoners were on a plane headed back to the United States. The money was delivered in an unmarked cargo plane.
“Whatever language the administration wants to use, the American people know a pretty simple word for what happened: ransom,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. “And when you pay ransom to regimes like Iran you ensure that they will take more hostages.”
McCarthy said two more shipments of cash were made for a total of $1.3 billion.
But the administration said Wednesday the bill addresses a problem that does not exist and would undermine U.S. obligations, ultimately benefitting Iran at the expense of the United States.
“The bill purports to raise concerns about the announcement in January that the United States brought home several unjustly detained Americans from Iran,” the White House said in a statement. “As the administration has repeatedly made clear, Iran released several detained Americans, and the United States provided relief to certain Iranian citizens charged with primarily sanctions-related offenses, several of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian nationals, in a one-time, reciprocal humanitarian gesture that brought our Americans home after 14 months of intensive negotiations.”
The statement called the House bill “ill-advised” and “short-sighted,” and insisted the United States “did not pay ransom to secure the return of our Americans from Iran.”
“This bill, while styled as prohibiting future purported ‘ransom payments,’ instead bars virtually any payment from the U.S. government to Iran, including those permitted or even required by law,” the statement said.
Obama has pledged to veto the measure.
Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, the Rev. Saeed Abedini and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian were freed by Iran in Jan. 21.