Obama’s explanation is convincing


President Obama engaged in a war of words with Republicans last week over allegations that he had secretly paid $400 million in ransom to Iran earlier this year to obtain the release of four Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

Obama got the better of the argument. But the controversy was a reminder that a year after Iran entered into an agreement to dismantle much of its nuclear infrastructure — an agreement it has honored — resistance to the agreement is still strong in Washington. That is dismaying because the deal remains the best way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and provoking a regional nuclear arms race.

The Republican cries of “ransom” were prompted by a belated report in the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. sent “wooden pallets stacked with Euros, Swiss francs and other currencies” to Iran by cargo plane in January at the same time the Americans were freed.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the cash payment was “another chapter in the ongoing saga of misleading the American people to sell this dangerous nuclear deal.”

At a news conference, an exasperated Obama disputed the allegations of ransom, noting that the $400 million payment was part of the settlement of a decades-old claim by Iran growing out of a failed arms deal. The settlement — though not the dramatic form of payment — was disclosed by the White House in January. As for the timing, Obama said it wasn’t surprising that various negotiations with Iran would be concluded at the same time.

Obama then suggested that the same people who were involved in what he called the “manufacturing of outrage” over the cash payment had earlier predicted that the nuclear agreement would fail — and that both positions were grounded in politics.

He might also have added that some opponents of the nuclear agreement — Democrats as well as Republicans — continue to push for measures that would undermine the deal. For example, amendments approved by the Republican-controlled House seek to block the sale of Boeing passenger jets to Iran, even though the nuclear agreement says explicitly that the U.S. “will allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran.”

Granted, Iran has itself to blame for much of the distrust it engenders in Washington. Obama has credited Iran for adhering to the nuclear agreement, but he also has criticized it for its “destabilizing behavior elsewhere, including its threats against Israel and our Gulf partners, and its support for violent proxies in places like Syria and Yemen.” But that record only underscores the importance of keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The agreement that just celebrated its first anniversary remains the best way to accomplish that objective.