Iran Trade: The Deal on Balance
There is a pattern emerging on the Iran deal: we got and they got. That’s how it’s supposed to work -- something for something -- right? Okay.
- Iranian ballistic missile tests in violation of UN resolutions;
- Missiles fired near a U.S. aircraft carrier sailing in international waters; and
- Ten American sailors illegally captured, whose rights under the Geneva Convention were violated when they were photographed for propaganda purposes.
Oh, wait – we’re probably supposed to look at the positive effects of the deal. Okay.
We got – and this is not to be minimized – although none of them should have been in Iranian prisons to begin with:
- Jason Rezaian, a newspaper reporter;
- Amir Hekmati, a former Marine visiting his grandmother;
- Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor;
- Matthew Trevithick, a student in a language program at Tehran University; and
- Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, a businessman who opted to stay in Iran.
- Bahram Mechanic, Tooraj Faridi, and Khosrow Afghahi, pardoned before trial for violating U.S. export laws regarding shipping high tech equipment to Iran.
- Matin Sadeghi’s charges dropped in the same case.
- Serving prisoners Arash Ghahreman (planning to send fiber optic gyroscopes and electron tubes to Iran), Nader Modanlo (providing satellite services to Iran) and Ali Saboonchi (providing high-tech industrial parts to Iran).
- Charges dropped against another man in the case and the company they worked for.
- Charges dropped against Mohammed Sharbaf, accused of shipping lift truck parts; Amin Ravan, accused of shipping antennas; and Mohammad Mohammadi, accused of sending aircraft parts all to Iran.
- Warrants dropped for three fugitive defendants wanted in federal court for cases involving alleged export controls or sanctions violations regarding goods headed for Iran
We did not get:
- Siamak Namazi, a businessman arrested in October and accused of espionage;
- Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007; or
- The navigational information from the boats from which the sailors were taken.
- Sanctions relief going forward;
- A closed book on prior defense related activity;
- A minimum, according to Secretary of State Kerry, of $55 billion in frozen funds, and perhaps as much as $150 billion;
- An extra $1.3 billion “interest payment” on previously impounded funds released to Tehran, plus the original $400 million in impounded funds; and
- The sincere and fulsome thanks of the U.S. Secretary of State for Iran’s gracious behavior toward the kidnapped American sailors.
- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei carping about the U.S., noting that Tehran should "exercise care the other party implements its commitments." Complaining about the “high price” Iran had paid for sanctions relief, he added that, "expressions by some U.S. politicians in recent days are matter of pessimism.”
- BG Mohammad Reza Naqdi, Commander of Iran’s Basiji Force, announcing that “The annulment of sanctions against Iran’s Bank Sepah and reclaiming of $1.7 billion of Iran’s frozen assets after 36 years showed that the U.S. doesn’t understand anything but the language of force. This money was returned for the freedom of the U.S. sp[ies] and was not related to the [nuclear] negotiations.”
In the meantime, Iran ended 2015 with the notable distinction of having the most executions in a single year, with more than 1,000 hangings. That’s more than three every day of the year, many from cranes in public spaces.
In the meantime, to the extent that the U.S. hoped to boost the power of Iranian “moderate reformer” Hassan Rouhani in the upcoming Iranian parliamentary elections, reformers -- such as they are -- have announced that nearly two-thirds of the 12,000 candidates who applied to run were either disqualified by Iran’s Guardian Council or “withdrew.”
In the meantime, Secretary Kerry on CNN dismissed Saudi Arabia’s fears of Iranian nuclear capability and other potential Iranian aggression with a warning and a slap:
You can't just buy a bomb and transfer it. There's all kinds of consequences. I mean, there are huge implications of that. And Saudi Arabia knows, I believe, that that is not going to make them safer, nor is it going to be easy, because the very things that Iran went through, they would then be subject to with respect to NPT and inspection and so forth.
In the meantime, three American contractors disappeared in Baghdad, a city in which Iran has great influence.
In the meantime, the U.S. slapped at Israel on the subject of EU labeling of Israeli products from the West Bank. Asked about whether such labeling is tantamount to a boycott, which the U.S. had previously said it opposes, State Department Spokesman John Kirby launched into a tirade against settlements:
We view Israeli settlement activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace. We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements, including construction, planning, and retroactive legalizations. The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements because administrations from both parties have long recognized that settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines, and efforts to change the facts on the ground, undermine prospects for a two-state solution.
The value of having back five Americans who should never have been arrested -- and ten sailors who should never have been kidnapped -- should not be underestimated. Former Marine Amir Hekmati told reporters:
I didn't want to let any of my fellow Marines down, and the reputation of the Marine Corps. So I tried my best to keep my head up and withstand all the pressures that were on me, some of which were very inhumane and unjust. Hearing about some of my fellow Marines supporting me really gave me the strength to put up with over four years of some very difficult times that me and my family went through... Semper Fi to all the Marines out there. It's like being born again, and I just really feel proud to be an American.
We’re proud of him, too, but on balance, the deal stinks for the three missing contractors, Siamak Namazi, Robert Levinson, the United States, the Iranian people, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and all who worry about Iranian ambitions in the Middle East and beyond.