The U.S. welcomed five Americans on Monday held in Iran for years. That is good news for their families and anyone interested in the plight of American hostages.
The bad news: In exchange, $6 billion was released to the Iranian regime.
The pact with Tehran brokered by the Biden administration comes with potentially catastrophic consequences for the Middle East. The dangers far outweigh the benefits, as there is a high likelihood that the funds, once distributed to Tehran, will support nefarious activities that threaten regional stability and security.
Negotiating the release of hostages is always a complex endeavor involving compromises with bad people. Such agreements always introduce risk to American interests, and such is the nature of diplomatic compromise: the state must give something to get something.
However, what sets this agreement apart is the timing and the enormous volume. Despite assurances from the U.S. National Security Council that the billions are earmarked exclusively for humanitarian purposes like food and medicine, the sanctions waiver releasing the funds essentially grants Iran carte blanche for its nuclear pursuits, acts of terrorism, and support to proxy conflicts. Once the funds were released to the regime, ostensibly for distribution to aid organizations, the world lost all control of its disbursement. There is every reason to believe it will go into the hands of the worst actors in the Middle East.
In the coming days, the regime will likely divert billions to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and military hospitals, or worse, sell it on the black markets of Iraq or Afghanistan for cold, hard cash. Last week, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told NBC News that Tehran will decide how to spend the funds. Sadly, he was right. This not only compromises the intended purpose of the agreement but also empowers groups with a track record of undermining regional stability, supporting terrorism, and beating back human rights within its own borders.
The Biden administration’s approach to negotiations with Tehran is always marked with a sense of desperation. The eagerness to engage diplomatically with the Islamic Republic, exemplified by the hastened revival of the ill-fated nuclear deal, sends a message to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq about the White House’s desire to appease Iran. At the very least, Secretary of State Tony Blinken should have demanded a forthright accounting of the case of Robert Levinson, the retired FBI agent kidnapped in Iran in 2007. Levinson is widely believed to have died in Iranian custody, but his body remains unrecovered.
The timing here is off as well. Iran is weeks away from producing sufficient fissile material to produce a nuclear bomb, a looming peril that would likely set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and introduce grave risk to American interests in the region.
Further, funds are released two days after the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of authorities for violating the country’s mandatory hijab rules. As the regime is once again cracking down on protests just as it prepares to receive an influx of cash from D.C. The deal sends a regrettable message not only to protestors. President Biden, who vowed to make Saudi Arabia a pariah state due to the kingdom’s human rights record, should hold the line here based on Tehran’s atrocious human rights record. This juxtaposition raises uncomfortable questions about the consistency of American foreign policy in pursuing justice and human rights. Giving Raisi diplomatic credence on an international stage right now is a mistake. This move undermines the principles of justice, human rights, and the rule of law that should be at the forefront of any diplomatic endeavor. By engaging with Raisi, we inadvertently legitimize a regime that has systematically violated the most basic rights of its citizens.
Engaging in dialogue with Raisi is a mistake. The man’s past is tainted with blood; he stands accused of overseeing some of the most heinous crimes against humanity in modern history. Last year, a Swedish court found a prison official guilty of war crimes, implicating Raisi in a policy of exterminating prisoners of conscience, resulting in thousands of executions. This verdict mirrors an earlier prosecution in Germany, where Iran’s top leaders were held responsible for the state-sponsored assassination of regime opponents.
While the desire to bring American prisoners home is noble, the means by which the Biden administration pursued that goal are deeply flawed. The risk of diverting $6 billion into the wrong hands and the legitimization of a leader with a blood-stained past are too great to ignore. We must stand united against the Iranian regime’s oppressive policies and its support for groups that seek to undermine global security.