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Pentagon Briefing: Obama dismisses suggestions Iran payment amounted to ransom

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President Barack Obama on Thursday dismissed suggestions a $400 million payment to Iran amounted to a ransom paid in return for the release of American hostages.

“We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here, and we won’t in the future,” Obama said at a Pentagon news conference a day after reports emerged the United States delivered palettes of cash to Tehran on the same day prisoners were freed. “Those families know we have a policy that we don’t pay ransom,” Obama said. “And the notion that we would somehow start now, in this high-profile way, and announce it to the world, even as we’re looking in the faces of other hostage families whose loved ones are being held hostage, and saying to them we don’t pay ransom, defies logic.”

Obama downplayed the story, saying he had been open about the payment at the time it was agreed upon.

“We announced these payments in January. Many months ago. They were not a secret,” Obama said. “It wasn’t a secret. We were completely open with everybody about it.”

ISIS

Obama predicted Thursday that US and local forces would retake Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, claiming ISIS hadn’t carried out a successful operation in either country in a year.

He acknowledged that ISIS still has the ability to “direct and inspire” terror attacks, and that its decline in Iraq and Syria “cause it to be shifting for greater attacks.”

“None of ISIL’s leaders are safe and we’re going to keep going after them,” Obama said in remarks at the Pentagon, using an alternative term for the terrorist organization.

Trump

Obama said Thursday his administration would follow tradition and administer classified intelligence briefings to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, despite having questioned his fitness to be commander in chief earlier in the week. “They need to get security briefings so that if they win, they are not starting from scratch so they are prepared for office,” Obama said, referring to Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Zika

Obama also chided lawmakers Thursday for taking a “vacation” before approving his requests for funding to fight the Zika virus. Obama said he didn’t predict a widespread outbreak of the virus, but he said the “situation is getting critical” in the US.

“I want to call the members of Congress and tell them to do their job. Deal with the threat and help protect the American people from Zika,” Obama said in remarks at a Pentagon news conference.