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

March 15, 2023 | Benny Avni
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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.”

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