One of the bigger foreign policy blunders that plagued the Obama administration over the summer was the WSJ report that the Obama administration agreed to pay a $1.7 billion ransom payment to secured the release of 4 hostages. When we commented on this development most recently, we said that such appeasement was likely to lead to even more hostage taking, and even more ransom demands by Iran.
Then, yesterday, we learned that an Iranian court has sentenced an Iranian-American businessman and his elderly father to 10 years in prison on charges of cooperating with the United States, Iranian media reported on Tuesday, the latest sign of an intensifying crackdown against Iranians with ties to the West. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in October 2015 detained Siamak Namazi, a businessman in his mid-40s with dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship, while he was visiting family in Tehran. The IRGC in February arrested his 80-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, a former Iranian provincial governor and former UNICEF official who also has dual citizenship.
Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi (R) is pictured
with his father Baquer Namazi, via Reuters
Both men were sentenced to 10 years in prison for spying and cooperating with the U.S. government, said Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, according to the Fars news website, without specifying when exactly the sentences had been handed down.
Cited by Reuters, U.S. State Department's deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, said the father and son had been "unjustly detained" in Iran, and called for their immediate release. Well, according to a new press report in the local state-controlled press, Iran may just agree to release them, but it will cost the US "many billions of dollars."
As the Washington Free Beacon first reported, senior Iranian officials, including the country’s president, have been floating the possibility of further payments from the United States for months. Since the White House agreed to pay Tehran $1.7 billion in cash earlier this year as part of a deal bound up in the release of American hostages, Iran has captured several more U.S. citizens.
Iranian news sources close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, which has been handling prisoner swaps with the United States, reported on Tuesday that Iran expects “billions of dollars to release” those U.S. citizens still being detained.”
“We should wait and see, the U.S. will offer … several billions of dollars to release” American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer, who was abducted by Iran after the United States paid Iran the $1.7 billion, according to the country’s Mashregh News outlet, which has close ties to the IRGC’s intelligence apparatus.
That amount may have been just the beginning: according to the WFB, "Future payments to Iran could reach as much as $2 billion, according to sources familiar with the matter, who said that Iran is detaining U.S. citizens in Iran’s notorious Evin prison where inmates are routinely tortured and abused."
In late September, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told NBC News that his government is in talks with the United States to secure future payouts, a disclosure that may have played a role in the White House’s recent decision to veto legislation to block future ransom payments to Iran.
“We’re currently conducting conversations and various dialogues in order to return this money to Iran,” Rouhani was quoted as saying. “Perhaps these dialogues can be still conducted simultaneously on parallel tracks while we’re conducting those same conversations in order to free the sums of money that are still owed to us" and according to the Free Beacon who spoke to one congressional adviser familiar with the issue, Iranian officials have been pressing for another $2 billion from the United States for months.
“Iranian officials including Foreign Minister [Mohammad Javad] Zarif have been bragging for months that they’re going to force the U.S. to pay them several billion dollars more,” the source said. “Now officials across the spectrum in Iran—from IRGC hardliners to the ostensibly moderate President Rouhani—are talking about those billions, and maybe several more, alongside chatter about the U.S. hostages.”
Speculation of future ransom payments to Iran come as Congress probes the circumstances surrounding the $1.7 billion cash payment, a portion of which was delivered by plane to Iran just hours before it released several U.S. prisoners. In an exclusive report, the Free Beacon recently disclosed that details of this payment and other details bound up in the hostage release are being stored in a highly secure location on Capitol Hill, preventing many from accessing the documents, which are not classified but are being treated as such. The three documents show that the cash payment was directly tied to the prisoner release, adding fuel to claims of a ransom payment, according to sources who have viewed them.
Meanwhile, it has not escaped others that having conceded to Iran's demands once would only embolden Tehran to seek more US prisoners, and demand more hostage exchanges for "many billions."
“Paying $1.7 billion to Iran to release the U.S. prisoners has encouraged Iran to arrest more Americans,” said Saeed Ghasseminejad, an associate fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Iran senses weakness in the U.S. leadership as it constantly tests the administration through a chain of provocative actions. To put an end to Iran’s abduction program, the administration should make it clear, by action and not words, that it does not reward Iran for its bad behavior.”
Conceding to Iran’s demands will only bolster the hardline regime, Ghasseminejad correctly concluded adding that “the administration also should warn American citizens and green card holders that Iran is a very dangerous place for them to travel or do business. However, such warning contradicts the administration’s continuous efforts to encourage investors and big banks to do business with Iran. The administration also should impose sanction on the entities and individuals involved in this abduction program.”
Of course, doing so would undo not only Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran, but also set back the administration's diplomatic success with the country back by years. Which is why, it will be up to the next president to resolve this increasingly precarious imbalance of power, one where Iran assume it has the upper hand by default and so far has to be proven wrong.