White House Says $400M Payment to Iran Was Not a Ransom

"It is against the policy of the United States to pay ransom for hostages."

“No, it was not,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said firmly on whether the cash transfer amounted to a ransom payment. “It is against the policy of the United States to pay ransom for hostages.”

Earnest was peppered with questions throughout Wednesday’s press briefing about the cash transfer, first reported on by The Wall Street Journal. Two senior U.S. officials confirmed to ABC News that the $400 million was paid to Iran in euros, Swiss francs and other foreign currencies and was delivered to Tehran via a private non-U.S. aircraft.

The officials would not elaborate on the time frame of the payment, other than to say it came together within 36 hours of the prisoner release and lifting of sanctions as part of the nuclear agreement.

Earnest told reporters that the $400 million was money that the Iranian government under the shah paid into a U.S. account in 1979 as part of a transaction to procure military equipment. The equipment was never provided, Earnest said, because the shah was overthrown.

In addition to the $400 million, there is an additional $1.3 billion in accumulated interest owed to Iran. The two officials would not elaborate on how or whether all the interest owed has been paid to Iran. But unlike the 400 million, that money would come from taxpayer-funded U.S. government accounts.

In explaining the overlap in this deal with the prisoner release, Earnest said that multiple agreements with Iran “came to a head at the same time” as parallel negotiations concluded.

Asked where the money went, Earnest said, “First of all, it’s Iranian money.”