Morning Joe Panel Criticizes Iran Hostage Payment Deal: 'Couldn't Be Made to Look Worse'

August 18, 2016

Thursday's Morning Joe panel on MSNBC criticized the payment of $400 million to Iran from the United States as a "ransom favor" that couldn't look worse after it was reported Iran would not let its American prisoners leave until after the plane with the money landed.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

The picture emerged from accounts of 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. Once that happened, an Iranian cargo plane was allowed to bring the cash home from a Geneva airport that day.

President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have said the payment didn’t amount to ransom, because the U.S. owed the money 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 Americans’ release have raised questions among lawmakers and administration critics.

After fill-in host Katty Kay briefed the audience about the story and the Obama administration's view that the money was owed to Iran, host Joe Scarborough didn't hold back from giving his take.

"Come on, it's a ransom favor!" Scarborough said.

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, claimed that it was not technically a ransom payment, but also had criticism for how the payment was made.

"The tight orchestration, it couldn't be made to look worse," Haass said.

Scarborough later returned to Haass about the payment.

"Is it legal to pay $400 million, to hold $400 million on a plane and say, in effect, as we did to them, ‘I don't care what anybody says, you release our prisoners and we'll give you $400 million, but you're not getting the $400 million until our prisoners are released?'" Scarborough asked.

"But again, the $400 million didn't come out of nowhere. This was money the United States owed Iran," Haass said.

"Owed, but hadn't paid for a long time until it needed it to pay it to get the prisoners out," panelist Mark Halperin said.