Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Iran’s imprisonment of several Americans amid a swirl of now-disputed rumors that U.S. and British officials were nearing a deal to pay the regime billions to release a handful of people.
“I have no higher priority than bringing arbitrarily detained Americans, American hostages, home to the United States,” Blinken said after a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. “And as Dominic said, the reports coming out of Tehran are not accurate. We are very closely engaged ourselves on this issue, and we’ll remain so. And as I said, I am determined to bring every American home.”
Iran has seized British and American citizens alike, claiming they are subject to legitimate criminal charges — an allegation that Blinken dismissed implicitly by choosing to use the term “hostages.” However, the cases are being discussed in different terms as British officials are explicit that Tehran is using a British national as a bargaining chip to pressure London to pay millions, stemming from a historic dispute, while Iranian officials are careful to claim that they are not using American citizens as a lever for sanctions relief — to the chagrin of Iran hawks who fear that a de facto ransom payment is in the offing.
“If the past is prologue, we should anticipate some kind of unacknowledged deal to pay Iran for the release of American hostages alongside the return to JCPOA,” former White House National Security Council official Richard Goldberg, who worked on Iran issues in former President Donald Trump’s administration, told the Washington Examiner. “There might be a shortage of pallets around due to the pandemic, but they’ll find a way to pay the mullahs’ extortion racket.”
That comment was an allusion to President Barack Obama’s decision to send $1.7 billion to Iran in 2016 to settle a decades-old arms deal dispute, but $400 million of that payment was delivered in cash in conjunction with the implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the release of five Americans held by the regime.
Hostage advocates cited “unconfirmed sources in Tehran” Sunday, who suggested that President Joe Biden’s team has struck a deal involving an exchange of prisoners and a $7 billion payment, but both Blinken and Iranian officials denied that report.
“The issue of prisoners has been a humanitarian issue which has always been on the agenda of the Islamic Republic of Iran and has been pursued through other conversations and [diplomatic] channels separately from the JCPOA or related issues,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Monday.
The report about the agreement was leaked to Iranian media linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, according to the Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs. “And this, I think, was an attempt to announce imminent release of hostages to, again, disrupt negotiations,” Philips said. “I think the implicit message from the Revolutionary Guards to the regime is, ‘We could get a lot for these hostages.’ Not only in terms of billions of dollars of money but maybe parlay that into some concessions … on the nuclear issue.”
Phillips’s analysis may derive support from the fact that the rumored payment is $7 billion, roughly the same amount of money frozen in South Korean banks that Iran has been trying to obtain in recent months. The report comes just days after the publication of leaked audio in which Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, a member of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s team, can be heard complaining that the IRGC has tried to “destroy” the nuclear deal.
“From the IRGC perspective, it’s heads [I] win, tails you lose,” Phillips said. “If there is a hostage deal and Iran doesn’t get the $7 billion … that hurts the Rouhani government. But if there isn’t a deal because the hostage issue was thrown [as] a spanner in the works, then the IRGC sees that as a victory also.”
And, after obtaining a cash delivery from Obama under the auspices of an arms deal settlement, Iranian officials appear to be running a similar play against Raab’s team. A British citizen named Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is under detention in Iran, while Iranian officials demand that the United Kingdom send 400 million pounds to Tehran to settle an old debt related to yet another canceled arms deal.
“On the detainees and the situation of Nazanin, obviously we’re working very intensively to try and secure their release,” Raab said Monday during the joint press conference. “We have been for many months. I would say that it’s incumbent on Iran unconditionally to release those who are held arbitrarily and, in our view, unlawfully.”
Goldberg, the former Trump administration official, expects that at least some U.S. and British hostages will be released in conjunction with an eventual agreement related to the lifting of sanctions and Iran’s return to compliance with the nuclear deal.
“This is simply one more extortion payment to make to produce positive PR amidst what will be a storm of criticism for rejoining the nuclear deal,” he told the Washington Examiner. “As for the Brits, the Foreign Office has long acknowledged its policy toward Iran is an appeasement policy — that’s their words in meetings with U.S. officials, not mine. So long as the U.S. Treasury Department is willing to authorize a cash transfer, the British Foreign Office will be eager to pay for a hostage’s return.”
Raab acknowledged in a media interview Sunday that Iran is using Nazanin as “leverage” to get the refund for British tanks that the U.K. sold to the Iranian shah but then refused to deliver after the 1979 revolution brought the current regime to power.
“That debt is something that we want to have resolved, and we’re committed to resolution. That is not actually the thing that is holding us up at the moment,” Raab told the BBC. “It is the wider context, as we come up to the Iranian presidential elections and the wider negotiations on the [2015 Iran nuclear deal], which, inevitably from the Iranian perspective, the two are considered in tandem.”
Source » washingtonexaminer