Is the U.S. Getting Ready to Ransom Hostages Held by Iran?

Last weekend, Iranian officials announced that they were close to reaching an agreement with Washington to release American prisoners. Although the U.S. swiftly denied that such a deal was in the offing, Benny Avni thinks the White House might in fact be close to securing the freedom of Siamak Namazi and other Americans.

[T]he administration’s top hostage negotiator, Roger Carstens, has traveled to Qatar, a country with good relations with Washington and Tehran, indicating a deal could come soon. . . . Mr. Namazi, sentenced in 2016 to a ten-year prison term on bogus espionage charges, gave a heart-wrenching interview last week to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, calling on Mr. Biden to “bring us home.” It wasn’t clear whether the authorities at the notorious Evin prison, where he is held, facilitated the interview, which created a stir in Washington.

Separately, Iranian news outlets reported over the weekend that Washington agreed to release frozen Iranian funds held in Iraqi banks as part of American sanctions against the regime. A much larger sum, widely estimated at $7 billion, is held in Korean banks. Some or all of it could be used as ransom for the release of the American hostages.

“A deal with Iran to get hostages out is necessary, but that deal doesn’t have to involve release of funds,” a former American hostage who was held at Evin, Xiyue Wang, told the Sun. . . . “Thousands of Iranian Americans live permanently in Iran,” Mr. Wang says. “If you give money today, how are you going to prevent further hostage-taking?” He noted that in his own release in 2019, “no money changed hands.”

Tehran is now attempting to create a “feeding frenzy” for the release of three Americans, a Washington-based lawyer who has been involved in Iranian hostage negotiations, Jason Poblete, tells the Sun. Yet, he says, “if there is an agreement and just one U.S. hostage is left behind, it will be a failure.”

Read more at New York Sun

More about: Iran, U.S. Foreign policy

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy