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Iran’s Strategy Following a Deal with the US

Iran’s Strategy Following a Deal with the US

Tuesday, 15 February, 2022 - 11:30
Camelia Entekhabifard
Editor-in-chief of the Independent Persian.

News coming from the nuclear talks in Vienna shows that the topic of a prisoner exchange between Iran and the US has taken priority over the talk on monitoring Iran’s nuclear program. According to the officials of the Iranian regime, these two topics are now being negotiated at the same time.


The Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson directly pointed this out on Monday. Speaking at a press conference, Saeed Khatibzadeh said this issue was being discussed in parallel to nuclear talks, but that the US was still undecided.


What Khatibzadeh is speaking about is the haggling over the cost of releasing Iranian-American hostages. The list of these hostages is long, but the US has put some of them in a Class A of hostages and the hostage-takers who know this are demanding a higher cost for their release.


Amongst the prisoners, four people are mentioned the most: Siamak Namazi, Baqer Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Sharqi. It seems like these are the four prisoners for whom Iran requests in exchange for the release of a major part of its cash holdings.


A few months ago, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s new foreign minister, spoke about the US having released “10 billion dollars of Iranians holdings to show good faith.” According to South Korea, 7 billion dollars of the Iranian holdings have been frozen in South Korean banks due to sanctions.


The US could easily release this amount with a simple order; this is a presidential prerogative. But it looks like it’s an additional 3 billion dollars of Iranian holdings which are being discussed between Iranian and US officials in Vienna.


"Prisoner exchange" is a misleading concept since no Iranian has been held hostage in the US. But the Biden administration, which badly wants to reach a deal with the Iranian regime, uses this term to refer to what is, in reality, paying a fee for a deal.


Amongst the dual-citizens Iranians who are imprisoned in the US, we can point to Mansour Arbabsiar, easily the most notable Iranian prisoner in the US. He was arrested and accused of working with the IRGC and planning to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington (then, Adel al-Jubeir). In the court, and in front of a jury, he admitted his guilt.


In 2015, he was not on the list of prisoners Iran asked for, and he is not being mentioned now either. Those Iranian prisoners in the US which the Iranian regime mentions are usually lower-level figures charged with money-laundering and breaking the sanctions regulations of the US Treasury to the benefit of the Iranian regime. The crimes they’ve committed was not done out of patriotism or love of Iran but based on greed and hope that they can get bribes and make an easy buck.


Ironically, some of the prisoners who were released or whose federal offenses were pardoned following the 2015 Iran deal didn’t even return to Iran. For instance, Ahmad Sheikhzadeh, a professor at NYU, who, according to the FBI, worked for a hostile government (i.e. the New York-based permanent representation of Iran to the UN) without license and received cash for consultancy and other services rendered to Iran, without reporting them to tax authorities.


Sheikhzadeh, who had a friendship with Iran’s former foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, didn’t leave the US soil following his release.


Among those released in 2015, the ones who returned to Iran were those without dual citizenship who had to leave the US. But Iranian-Americans jailed in Evin (Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Nustarullah Khosravi and Saeed Abdeini) were sent to Switzerland on a special flight, with planes full of cash going to Iran to assure their release. Iran got 1.7 billion dollars of cash in their return. The Obama administration claimed that this was not linked to the prisoner’s release and this was 400 million dollars that Washington owed to Iran due to military deals in the 1970s. But the simultaneity of the two events makes this doubtful.


The Iranian regime is now attempting to magnify the plight of imprisoned Iranians in the US to ride a humanitarian wave and portray this as a basic attempt to free its own citizens. Meanwhile, it is trying to get a big cash bonanza in exchange with hostages it is holding in Tehran.


If the Iranian regime is so humanitarian and so worried for its own citizens around the world, why doesn’t it show its good will by releasing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? This young woman is spending the best years of her life, that could have been spent with her husband and daughter, in detention and under psychological and emotional torture.


An entire world is heart-broken at the sight of the sad eyes of Nazanin’s young daughter. Have the officials looked at the situation of this family who has been destroyed because the Iranian regime heartlessly turned her into a bargaining chip with the UK?


The coming deal, just like the original 2015 pact, won’t make a difference in how the regime behaves or the general well-being of the Iranian people. But the money the regime is so hard after could be injected to the market and bring about a short-term and relative psychological calm among the people and thus prevent a national explosion and a hunger revolt.


But we all know that Iran’s disorders won’t be solved so easily and with receiving of ransom or limiting the nuclear program. While the regime is negotiating in Vienna, it is also threatening the neighboring countries via its militias and their missiles.


What matters most to the Biden administration is a return to the 2015 deal and control of the Iranian regime so that it can’t build an atomic bomb. Recent threats by Iran are lucrative for the arms industry in the US that are busy selling equipment and missile defense systems to countries of the region.


Last week, the US issued a license for new arm deals with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. In one deal with Jordan, the US will receive 4 billion dollars to supply Amman with F-16 and guided missiles. Similar deals on a lower level have been signed for selling advanced air-defense systems, such as Patriot, Hawk and THAAD, with the UAE. The Saudis, who recently signed a 650-million-dollar deal with the US to buy surface-to-air missiles, have also inked a new 24 million dollar to receive parts for air-defense.


Biden’s strategy is the same as the 2015 strategy of the Obama administration, but the Iranian regime has changed its approach. It no longer seeks a relationship with the West and attraction of foreign investment.


Lack of social and political stability and security in Iran means that large commercial and economic concerns won’t invest in the country. The dominant strategy of the Iranian regime is the Look East policy aimed at expanding ties with China and Russia. The deal will help them assuage their economic worries for a while to keep the Iranian people at bay. Following their deal with the West over the nuclear program, the Iranian regime will pursue new relations with countries of the region.


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