New details of the $400 million U.S. payment to Iran earlier this year depict a tightly scripted exchange specifically timed to the release of several American prisoners held in Iran, based on accounts from U.S. officials and others briefed on the operation.
U.S. officials wouldn’t let Iranians take control of the money until a Swiss Air Force plane carrying three freed Americans departed from Tehran on Jan. 17, the officials said. Once that happened, an Iranian cargo plane was allowed to bring the cash back from a Geneva airport that day, according to the accounts.
President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have said the payment didn’t amount to ransom, because the money was owed by the U.S. to Iran as part of a longstanding dispute linked to a failed arms deal from the 1970s. U.S. officials have said that the prisoner release and cash transfer took place through two separate diplomatic channels.
But the handling of the payment and its connection to the release of the Americans have raised questions among lawmakers and administration critics.