It's been an eventful and consequential few days with respect to US-Iranian relations. While some will cast several major developments as unalloyed positives (see updates for details regarding the headline on this post), each comes at a substantial price: (1) The Obama administration secured the release of three Americans -- a Washington Post journalist, a pastor and a former Marine -- held hostage by the regime. While this is no doubt extremely welcome, heartwarming news for each man's family and friends, the Wall Street Journal's editors note that the US government paid a "steep ransom" for this outcome, which they describe as an Iranian triumph:
The White House agreed to pardon or drop charges against seven Iranian nationals charged with or convicted of crimes in the U.S., mostly for violating sanctions designed to retard Iran’s military or nuclear programs. Iran gets back men who were assisting its military ambitions while we get innocents. This is similar to the lopsided prisoner swaps that Mr. Obama previously made with Cuba for Alan Gross and the Taliban for alleged deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl...The Obama Administration also agreed to drop the names of 14 Iranian nationals from an Interpol watch list. Most notable is the CEO of Mahan Air, an Iranian carrier sanctioned for transporting members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that is suspected of transferring arms to Bashar Assad’s regime...All of this shows that the nuclear accord is already playing out as critics predicted. The West will tread gingerly in challenging Iran’s nonnuclear military and regional ambitions lest it renege on its nuclear promises. Iran has again shown the world that taking American hostages while Barack Obama is President can yield a diplomatic and military windfall.
America ensures the return of a few innocent men; Iran guarantees the freedom of seven of its nationals who were convicted of actual crimes in non-sham trials, including several sanctions violators. And they get 14 others dropped from an international criminal 'wanted' list. As the Journal editorial notes, this result is in keeping with several other high-profile, slanted deals negotiated by Team Smart Power with other anti-American regimes and terrorist groups. Bloomberg's Josh Rogin reports on how removing the CEO of Mahan Air could be a boon not just to Iran, but also to the Assad regime in Syria, and the virulently anti-Israel terrorist group Hezbollah:
For years, Iran’s privately-owned Mahan Air has been using its planes to bring soldiers and arms directly to the Syrian military and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah by flying them from Tehran to Damascus, according to the U.S. Treasury Department...Arabnejad is one of the 14 Iranians who no longer will have Interpol red notices out on them, which are meant to ensure their arrest and extradition to the U.S. on charges that will now also be dropped. The executive order he is sanctioned under is for support for terrorism. In 2011, the U.S. sanctioned the entire airline for ferrying personnel and arms for the Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah, which it officially considers a terrorist organization...Last May, as the Iranian nuclear deal was being finalized, Mahan Air was able to purchase nine used Airbus commercial airliners, taking advantage of a relaxation of sanctions that came with an interim agreement Iran struck with Western powers. Experts say that the new lifting of the Interpol "red notices" -- essentially arrest warrants -- on Arabnejad and Mahmoudi further reduces pressure on Mahan Air and, by extension, on the Assad regime and Hezbollah...President Obama spoke about the Iran prisoner swap Sunday and said none of the 7 released Iranians were charged with terrorism or any violent offenses. “They are civilians,” he said. But Obama didn’t mention the 14 who no longer have international arrest warrants, including the Mahan Air executives.
(2) After balking at Iran's behest -- reportedly to protect the 'hostages-for-prisoners-and-other-concessions' exchange -- the Obama administration has finally imposed (very limited) new sanctions on entities and individuals connected to the regime's rogue ballistic missile program. While this is an improvement over doing nothing, Iran will happily grumble over this relative wrist-slap as its coffers are filled with more than $100 billion in sanctions relief triggered under the nuclear agreement. And there's even more American money headed to Iran, too:
Mr. Obama also announced the resolution of another argument between Tehran and Washington that dates to the Iranian revolution, this one over $400 million in payments for military equipment that the United States sold to the shah of Iran and never delivered when he was overthrown. The Iranians got their money back, with $1.3 billion in interest that had accumulated over 37 years.
Bear in mind that these newly-added sanctions are in response to two separate Iranian missile tests that violate existing international restrictions, as well as elements of the nuclear deal itself, many would argue. As it agrees to delay and pause parts of its nuclear program (remember this?), Iran is actively experimenting with...illegal delivery systems for nuclear warheads. How reassuring. Reminder: In relation to the recent accord, the UN's nuclear watchdog concluded that the Iranian regime has repeatedly lied about the status and nature of its rogue nuclear program -- upon which the deal confers international legitimacy.
(3) Now that it has complied with and met several early benchmarks of the deal, Iran has been granted fresh, lucrative access to global markets and approximately $100 billion in unfrozen assets -- which President Obama has admitted may very well be used to finance terrorism and regional military meddling, each of which are staples of Tehran's global treachery. In exchange for this immediate windfall of sanctions relief, Iran has agreed to tweak and mothball most of its nuclear program over the next 10-15 years, after which all Western-imposed restrictions are automatically lifted. The regime gets to keep important parts of its program intact, contrary to strong US demands heading into negotiations. Obama himself has conceded that even if Iran breaks with its long tradition of cheating on international agreements (its leaders say there will be no inspections permitted at military sites, while other inspections are subject to a time-consuming appeals process), the hostile anti-American regime will emerge as a threshold nuclear-armed state with a vast, operational nuclear program as soon as enforcement provisions begin to sunset in the coming years. The State Department has confirmed that Iranian representatives never formally signed the deal, which American diplomats describe as a political agreement that is not technically legally binding. But hey, at least there will be plenty of newly-"legitimate" Iranian banks into which American money will flow:
Usually I'd worry that US would have trouble finding a clean Iranian bank to give $1.7b to, but JCPOA delisted 23 of 24 Iranian terror banks— Omri Ceren (@cerenomri) January 18, 2016
UPDATE - If this Iraqi claim pans out, will anyone be surprised?
Iraqi authorities saying that Americans were kidnapped by Iran-backed Shiite militia groups. https://t.co/SQMswxw2HT— Mark Dubowitz (@mdubowitz) January 19, 2016
Wow, twice over:
State "hoped" Iran would tell IRGC-backed militia to "hold off" on kidnapping Americans until after Hostage Swap pic.twitter.com/SMR0AgDz4g— Michael P Pregent (@MPPregent) January 19, 2016
Iranian officials nearly took more hostages (!) in the process of executing this hostage release, even in light of the concessions the regime had won. And now we learn via CBS News that US foreign policy has evidently been reduced to "hoping" that Iran would order its proxies to hold off on kidnapping more Americans until after a deal to free other detained Americans was completed. Extraordinary. By the way, let's not forget this, which I haven't even mentioned yet:
In light of CentCom timeline, I’m reupping my column on how Iran caused the crisis the US thanked it for resolving https://t.co/nxzdNBkvwR— Eli Lake (@EliLake) January 19, 2016