President Trump boasted Thursday night that he secured the freedom of three American captives from North Korea for no money, while claiming that former President Barack Obama paid $1.8 billion to Iran to release U.S. hostages two years ago.
Speaking at a boisterous campaign rally in Elkhart, Indiana, Mr. Trump exulted in the return of the three Americans whom he greeted earlier in the day upon their arrival back in the Washington area.
“We didn’t pay for them,” Mr. Trump said. “They came out for nothing. Those hostages came out with respect.”
Referring to Mr. Obama’s negotiations with Iran in 2016, Mr. Trump said, “Obama, President Obama, paid $1.8 billion for hostages. Can you believe that? The others came out for $1.8 billion in cash.”
He was talking about what critics said at the time amounted to more than a billion dollar ransom payment to Iran, announced with the freeing of five Americans from Iranian jails. The Treasury Department wired the money to Iran around the same time that Tehran let three American prisoners fly out of the country. In a prisoner swap, two other Americans held in Iran were released and seven Iranians charged or convicted by the U.S. returned to Iran.
The Obama administration insisted that the settlement of a dispute over a $400 million trust fund the Shah of Iran had set up for arms purchases from the U.S., and which had been frozen since the Islamic Republic seized the U.S. embassy in 1979, was purely coincidental.
The moves two years ago coincided with the implementation of the nuclear agreement with Iran, which lifted economic sanctions in exchange for Iran curtailing its nuclear program. Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of that pact this week, saying it was unworkable.
North Korea’s release of the three Americans came ahead of a June 12 summit between Mr. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on denuclearization. The president said at the rally that he’s optimistic about getting a deal.
“We’re going to make a great deal for the world,” he said. “Kim Jong-un did a great service to himself, to his country. What he did was the right thing.”
Mocking critics who said he was risking nuclear war with North Korea, Mr. Trump said, “You know what gets you into nuclear wars? You know what gets you into other wars? Weakness.”
The rally was held before a capacity crowd of about 7,000 at Elkhart’s largest basketball gymnasium. Attendees traveled from at least five other states to see the president: Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The president pointed to positive economic news, including historically low unemployment rates for minorities.
“The Democrats have had a lock on the Hispanic vote and they’ve had a lock on the African-American vote. No longer,” he said.
But he said the country’s positive direction “can also disappear if you put fools and you put the wrong people in,” and that “all of the great momentum we’re having as a country … it’s all at stake in November. It can disappear quickly.”
“Nancy Pelosi said yesterday she wants to end the tax cuts and raise your tax cuts. Is that good politics? I don’t think her party was too happy. They want to raise your taxes, they want to have open borders,” Mr. Trump said. “You have to work every day between now and November to elect more Republicans so we continue to make America great again.”
Vice President Mike Pence, a former governor of Indiana, criticized his state’s Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, who is running for re-election this fall, for voting against tax cuts, a repeal of Obamacare and other policies promoted by the president.
He said Mr. Donnelly is also considering a “no” vote on the nomination of Gina Haspel, whom he called “an American patriot,” for director of the CIA.
“I think Indiana deserves better,” Mr. Pence said, calling on voters in the Republican-leaning state to support GOP senate nominee Mike Braun.