August 5, 2016

Ransom for hostages - the view from Tehran

By now, most people have seen the back and forth between the Obama Administration's various spokesmen and the media. The journalists, to their credit, are demanding a rational explanation about what appears to most rational observers as payment of ransom to the Iranian regime in return for the release of four (it turned out to be five) Americans being detained on trumped-up charges - in essence, hostages.

The Administration has admitted that it sent $400 million to the Iranian regime in January, but claimed that the payment was strictly connected to a legal settlement in an unrelated case - President Obama insisted it was not “ransom.”

If President Obama, Secretary Kerry, John Earnest and John Kirby have not watched the above video, they should. Why, since they are all familiar with the facts of the case? Because what is portrayed in the video is what the Iranian people believe. They have been told by their government (we'll address credibility issues later) that the United States paid a ransom for the release of the hostages.

The text of the video clip:

The Islamic Republic added an expensive offer to the [JCPOA] equation: the release of seven Iranian prisoners in the United States, $1.7 billion, and the lifting of sanctions against 16 Iranians who were prosecuted by the U.S. legal system with unjust excuse of sanctions violations.

But these were not the Iranians' only demands. Lifting sanctions against Sepah [IRGC] Bank was added to Iran's list.

All of this, in return for the release of only four American citizens. A win-lose deal that benefits the Islamic Republic and hurts the United States.

The Democrats' concern was mostly due to the fact that Obama's rivals might find out.

Normally, most Americans would dismiss this as propaganda from Iran, a country decidedly unfriendly to the United States, a country with the blood of American soldiers on its hands, a country regarded by any honest observer of events in the Middle East to be the world's primary state sponsor of terrorism.

That said, Americans have grown wary of trusting this Administration - it goes from the President down to both of his secretaries of state - currently John Kerry and previously Hillary Clinton - and their spokesmen.

President Obama has been caught in so many lies since he took office that people just do not believe him. Secretary Clinton has been shown to be untruthful repeatedly - her mishandling of classified information and continuing refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing is the latest example.

Secretary Kerry's history of capitulating on almost every demand in the Iran nuclear deal and in every negotiation he has had with the Russians, and his unwillingness to share the actual terms of his bad agreements, do not inspire confidence among the American people.

Let me put it this way, Messrs. Obama, Kerry, Kirby and Earnest: No one believes you.

The words of the video seem to be corroborated by one of the hostages, Pastor Saeed Abedini. Here are some excerpts from an interview he provided to a cable news outlet:

"I just remember the night that we've been in an airport - you know - just take hours and hours there. And I asked one of the intelligence police heads that was with us - that why we were not letting us to go to the [inaudible] plane and he told me we are waiting for another plane. And if that plane takes off then we are going to let you go.

"They told us you are going to be there for 20 minutes but it took like hours and hours. We slept at the airport and when I asked them why you don't let us go - because the plane was there, pilot was there, everyone was ready that we leave the country - they said we are waiting for another plane. And until that plane doesn't come we never let you go.

"You know we went to the airport I think it was like 2, 3pm and we waited there for a whole night. And we, you know, fly back I think the day after at 10 in the morning."

To rational observers, it appears that the Iranians were waiting for the aircraft carrying $400 million in cash to arrive before the hostages would be allowed to depart. That indicates that the release of the hostages was linked to the payment of the money to the Iranians. The State Department, of course, denies "categorically" any such linkage.

The State Department's words are in typical diplo-speak - this is Mark Toner, one of Josh Earnest's assistants:

"I was actually with the Secretary in Vienna - this was the night of the implementation of the JCPOA. And as I said, it was a moment where three separate lines of effort were culminating at the same time. And all of them were, as I said, separate but distinct lines of effort operating concurrently.

You had the JCPOA implementation day, you had the freeing of the American hostages or detainees, and you also had this Hague settlement taking place. So as to the timing, I can’t answer conclusively that these detainees were on a plane before that money arrived."

Mr. Toner (I assume you are speaking for the Secretary), I appreciate your efforts to paint this as "three separate lines of effort," but that is not how it is viewed by Iran. We know now that the arrival of the money was a condition for the release of the detainees.

The money and the hostage release - actually a lop-sided exchange - were incentives to the Iranians to agree to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Of course, many of us think the Kerry-negotiated deal was incredibly generous to the Iranians and no further incentives would be needed.

The Iranians are excellent negotiators - some say they actually developed it into an art form - and were able to wrest concession after concession from the American negotiators. The Americans even capitulated to a Russian proposal to drop the United Nations ban on ballistic missile tests. (See my article, Iran's ballistic missile program - more fallout from the "Kerry Collapse")

For my detractors - yes, I have some - I am not against negotiating with the Iranians to eliminate their nuclear weapons program. I would support a good deal, but what Kerry negotiated is not a good deal for the United States. To the contrary, what Kerry produced serves Iran well.

It does not matter if what Mr. Toner described as "three separate lines of effort" are technically as the State Department claims - what matters is how the Iranians perceive them. While the State Department insists - correctly - that the $400 million was Iranian money at the time it was frozen, including it in the series of negotiations for the JCPOA and the detainee negotiations made it a package deal.

The Iranians know the money, the hostages and the nuclear agreement were a package deal. The American people know it. The Administration knows it, but will never admit it. It's now open season on Americans foolish enough to travel to Iran.