President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office with Secretary of State John Kerry to thank him for his work with the negotiations on the nuclear agreement with Iran.
(photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)
Iran’s refusal to release American hostages gets at the heart of some of the skepticism voiced by critics that the July nuclear deal will help the Islamic Republic reenter the international community.
US President Barack Obama envisioned in a post-nuclear deal that Iran would “take some decisive steps to move toward a more constructive relationship with the world community.”
Iran’s blunt response was to convict the American-Iranian Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian in a Star Chamber setting earlier this month. Rezaian is widely believed to have been framed based on trumped-up espionage charges by Iran’s regime. His only “crime” was journalistic news gathering.
As a result, the expectation that Iran could be housebroken because of the over $100 billion in sanctions relief it will receive due to the nuclear deal is already limping on both legs at this nascent phase of the deal.
The shaky formula behind the deal between the US and its world partners (France, UK, Germany, China and Russia) with Iran consisted of a quid pro quo: lucrative economic incentives – the lifting of sanctions on Iran – in exchange for the mullah regime’s curtailment of its illicit nuclear program.
In a Friday Washington Post opinion article, Naghmeh Abedini, whose husband, Pastor Saeed, is imprisoned in Iran, captured the defects of the Iran deal. “Finally, when the United States agreed to a nuclear deal with Iran in the summer, there was much hope and anticipation that Iran would do the right thing and release my husband and the other Americans it was holding hostage. The reality: The deal did not produce freedom for our loved ones... The truth is Iran cannot be trusted.”
“Mr. President, it’s past time to bring the Iranian hostages – including my husband – home,” wrote Abedini.
Her husband was jailed in 2012 for practicing his Christian faith.
He, along with three other Americans – Rezaian, Bob Levinson and Amir Hekmati – have been incarcerated longer than the first wave of US hostages during the 1979 Embassy crisis in Tehran.
Obama has showed himself to be prickly and hyper-sensitive about his administration’s failure to secure the release of the US hostages.
In response to CBS News reporter Major Garrett’s question as to why Obama was “content, with all of the fanfare around this [nuclear] deal, to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for, in relation to [the] Americans” imprisoned in Iran, Obama responded, “That’s nonsense, and you should know better.”
The Obama administration uses a peculiar terminology when describing the US prisoners. “We continue to call on Iran to immediately release the detained US citizens,” Secretary of State John Kerry said.
“Detained” suggests that they are being held temporarily, rather than the combined 15 years of incarceration served by the four Americans.
Kerry has doubled-down on his decision to not link the release of US hostages to the Iran nuclear deal. “I think it was the right strategy to pursue,” Kerry said, after the conviction of Rezaian.
For critics of the Iran deal, Kerry’s position is perplexing. After all, the US agreed to allow Iran to procure conventional weapons. While the deal was supposed to be narrowly focused on Iran’s nuclear program, Obama agreed to remove the UN embargo on conventional weapons sales within five years. After eight years, the UN sanction on missile sales will be lifted.
All of this helps to explain the headline of a Christian Science Monitor article on Friday: “Why the nuclear deal has empowered Iran, for now.” A European diplomat told the publication, “What you have to expect is a stiffening of the Iranian position, a hardening really.”
Iran’s recalcitrance is not merely limited to hostage-taking, but to its refusal to stop arming Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s war machine, as well as to its support for the Lebanese terrorist entity Hezbollah.
Thus far, more carrots have not domesticated Iran. It appears to be a case of “Everything old is new again.”Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.