Obama and the diplomacy of appeasement with Iran
New details have emerged out of Iran of the sheer depths to which the Obama administration was prepared to sink in order to secure the nuclear deal. Obama's diplomacy of appeasement takes one's breath away
The recent “prisoner swap” between the US and Iran, following the nuclear deal, continues to raise more questions. Was the US negotiating with Iran's revolutionary guards? Who benefited the most from what took place, and can it even be called a prisoner swap anyway?
On 17th January this year, Iran released five prisoners with US nationality in return for 7 prisoners with dual US-Iranian citizenships who were sentenced to imprisonment in America by US courts for violating the Iran sanctions laws. Obama's administration also agreed to drop pending prosecutions for 16 other Iranian nationals who were on trial for similar violations.
In terms of simple quid pro quo number of prisoners, that can be regarded as 23 to 5 in favour of the Islamic Republic, so far.
The end game however, may be even more in favour of Iran than what the initial quid pro quo suggests. None of the 7 imprisoned Iranians released in America, nor the 16 whose pending prosecutions were dropped, were willing to risk their US citizenship or Green Cards and return to Iran.
Instead, they have all chosen to remain in America. In Other words Obama's administration has simply released 7 prisoners, who were found guilty by US courts for breaking the law, back into the American community without any further restrictions on them and has asked the courts not to pursue charges against another 16.
On the Iranian side, one of the five US nationals released by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Matt Trevithick, was never sentenced or even charged for any crime by the Islamic judiciary. He had entered Iran legally and enrolled in a four month intensive language program at the Dehkhoda Institute, an accredited language centre affiliated with Tehran University, to learn the Persian language.
Trevithick's 40 day incarceration in the notorious Evin prison without charges was therefore simply an illegal hostage taking exercise that paid off. Trevithick should have never been in prison, and a strong US administration should have demanded his release without any pre-conditions or favours in return
So, lets adjust the quid pro quo scoreboard to 23 to 4 in favour of the Islamic Republic for now.
Another one of the prisoners released by Iran was Saeed Abedini. Western media have portrayed him as a heroic Christian Evangelist pastor who had refused to give up his faith. In fact, Abedini, according to his own wife, was a porn addict who had repeatedly abused her, and was imprisoned not for organising churches in Iran but for running a brothel in his father-in-law's villa outside Tehran.
So, not much of a bargain there for the US administration.
Then there is the mystery man in this most unusual “prisoner swap”: Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari. No one knows who this mystery man is. There is no picture of him and, most bizarrely, he did not leave Iran after he was released.
Western journalists who were waiting in Germany to cover the arrival of the released prisoners were telling me that even the American officials didn't know who Nosratollah Khosravi Roodsari was. It is unclear whether US officials are maintaining their silence for security reasons or are just too embarrassed to admit they have been duped by the Iranian officials into thinking they were getting an extra prisoner in return that could make the numbers look better.
On 16th February, Iranian state TV aired a special program about the prisoner swap with fresh claims on what went on behind the scenes to make this happen. Four of the US nationals released by Iran were all shown by their pictures but still one month after, only a shadow profile was used to depict Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari.
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, on 13th February, confirmed Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari is still in Iran and has not left the country. The exact identity of the mysterious prisoner or whether he really even exists, is still open to speculation.
That leaves two other US prisoners, former US marine and linguistics expert, Amir Hekmati, who was arrested in 2011 when according to the Iranian authorities, he had approached them and offered to spy for Iran against the US; and the most famous of the released prisoners, the Washington Post reporter, Jason Rezaian.
In addition to all this, a programme that aired on Iran state TV boasted that the IRGC Intelligence service was involved throughout the nuclear negotiations and that they had imposed their will and set out extra conditions for the nuclear agreement to take place.
The demand for the release of the 7 prisoners with Iranian nationality and the dropping of charges against another 17, was just one of the demands that IRGC Intelligence claimed to have successfully obtained from the Americans. Other conditions which were being negotiated parallel to the nuclear negotiations and conceded by the Americans included the removal of sanctions from the IRGC affiliated Sepah Bank, and for the US to pay Iran $1.7 billion in much needed cash.
According to the above mentioned programme, Obama's administration was so keen on reaching an agreement with Iran and leaving a legacy for Obama that they complied with all the IRGC demands with just one request -- that none of these matters should ever be discussed publicly or with the other P5+1 members.
John Kerry was said to have emphasised that Federica Mogherini must never know about these other negotiations or she may not agree to signing the JCPOA nuclear deal.
Also, the programme added, with regard to the cash payment demand, the US administration at first wanted to comply by opening bank credit accounts for Iran, but the IRGC insisted that they were to be paid upfront in cash and eventually the US agreed to pay $400 million before any prisoners were released as a sign of "good faith"; $400 million was then sent in bank notes on a special plane to Iran.
Throughout the programme, comparisons were made between the Obama administration and the Carter administration. It showed how the Carter administration was also frustrated in its efforts to release the US embassy hostages in the 1980s, and was willing to pay any price to get them out.
Most of us are unable to verify or refute the claims made in what was shown on Iranian state TV. Nevertheless, a claim has been made by the IRGC Intelligence and it is up to the other parties involved, i.e. the Iranian negotiating team and the US negotiating team to deny that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were involved in the nuclear negotiations and confirm that the prisoner swap, the $1.7 billion paid back to Iran, and the removal of the sanctions on Sepah Bank were entirely separate matters not related to the nuclear deal.
At the least, however, we can justifiably say that the prisoner swap was in fact 23-2 in favour of the Islamic Republic of Iran, hardly a triumph, as it was claimed, for Obama's diplomacy of appeasement.
Potkin Azarmehr left Iran for the UK after the “Cultural Revolution”. He is currently a contributor to several newspapers and Television stations on Iran related news and also writes and produces a number of TV programs
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