On Wednesday, two out of three British-Iranian hostages were released by Iran, following Britain’s payment to it of a $530 million debt. Their release, as Nigel Farage writes, is wonderful news for the prisoners and their families, but the manner in which it was arranged should cause great alarm. The former U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo called the debt repayment “blood money” and predicted that Iran will use the funds to “terrorize Israel, the UK, and the U.S.” Farage explains the context of the hostage negotiation and suggests that it might further damage Western relations with Saudi Arabia, a key regional rival to Iran.
At the very least, the timing of the hostages’ release prompts serious questions. Why has Britain chosen this moment to repay Iran the money? It could have done so at any time since Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was first imprisoned in 2016. The answer is that the British government is hoping to repair relations with Iran. It shares Joe Biden’s enthusiasm for rebooting the Iran nuclear deal. . . .
On the same day the aforementioned British hostages were released, Boris Johnson visited Saudi Arabia and held talks with Mohammed bin Salman and the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed. The purpose of this trip was to persuade bin Salman and bin Zayed to commit to increasing energy exports from the Middle East so that the West can cut its reliance on Russian oil.
Things did not go well.
First, three executions were carried out in Saudi Arabia shortly after Johnson landed in Riyadh. They followed the 81 executions which took place there last weekend. The Saudis would not have ordered these killings while a visiting foreign premier was on their soil unless they wanted to send a message to the West. Second, Saudi Arabia announced that day that it is close to agreeing with Beijing to price some of its oil sales to China in yuan and not dollars, thereby damaging the U.S. dollar’s dominance of the global petroleum market. If nothing else, this is hugely symbolic and shows deep unease with Biden’s administration. Johnson left the Middle East emptyhanded. He got precisely nothing in return for his visit.