The day before the Obama administration was due to slap new sanctions on Iran late last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry the move could derail a prisoner deal the two sides had been negotiating in secret for months. Kerry and other top aides to President Barack Obama, who was vacationing in Hawaii, convened a series of conference calls and concluded they could not risk losing the chance to free Americans held by Tehran.

At the last minute, the Obama administration officials decided to delay a package of limited and targeted sanctions intended to penalize Iran for recent test-firings of a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. This account of previously unreported internal deliberations was provided by two people with knowledge of the matter. A third official said Obama had approved the decision to delay the sanctions. FULL REPORT