State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that impending sanctions relief from the nuclear deal with Iran could have incentivized Iranian officials to release ten U.S. sailors from custody Tuesday.
When Reuters reporter Arshad Mohammed first asked Kirby why the Obama administration ascribed the release of the sailors to the "open channel" created by the Iran Deal rather than the impending economic benefits of the deal, Kirby could not answer the question.
"Why do you ascribe causality to the fact that you have this channel, as opposed to, for example, the fact that you are about to hand them huge economic benefits in exchange for their nuclear actions?" Mohammed asked.
"I'm not quite sure I understand the question. Um…but we’re not handing them—" Kirby said.
Mohammed then repeated his question, to which Kirby said that it was possible that the Iranians were motivated by the prospect of billions of dollars of sanctions relief.
"You keep talking about how important the channel is, but my question is, well, gee, isn’t it perfectly conceivable that what was really important here is the fact that they’re about to get a whole bunch of economic benefits for actions you wanted them to take?"
"Oh, I see. That could’ve been behind their motivation, I don’t know. I don’t know. Only they can speak to that," Kirby said. "As for their motivation, again, I think they should speak to that. Here at the State Department, we’re just glad that diplomacy worked in this case."
Obama administration officials and Democrats like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D, Calif.) have praised the release of the sailors as a victory of "masterful" diplomacy.
Still, Kirby said Thursday that he was worried that the successful diplomacy of the situation was "being forgotten" and "largely overlooked," though the New York Times featured a front-page report that largely applauded the incident.