The Biden administration reportedly has reached a deal to free five Iranian-American hostages held by Iran, in what may be the prelude to an even worse agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
Under the reported deal, the United States would secure the five hostages’ release by releasing an unknown number of Iranian agents or sanctions violators held in U.S. jails and at least $6 billion of Iranian assets frozen by South Korea.
The hostage deal is dangerous because it would reward Iran’s implacably hostile regime for seizing American citizens and incentivize Tehran and other outlaw regimes to take more hostages.
Even worse, the $6 billion ransom paid for the hostages also would be a down payment for the emerging “informal, unwritten agreement” that President Joe Biden naively hopes will defuse growing tensions over Iran’s nuclear advances, at least until after the 2024 presidential election.
The Biden administration also has relaxed the enforcement of sanctions and turned a blind eye to Iran’s illicit oil exports to China and other destinations. Iran now exports 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to China, the highest figure since 2013.
Bolstering a Dictatorship
If the emerging new deal follows this trajectory of accommodation and appeasement, the net effect will be to bolster Iran’s embattled dictatorship, fill its coffers with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, empower it to violently repress its own people, and boost the threat posed by its missiles, drones, proxy groups, and even its nuclear program.
The backroom deal would do nothing to address the dangers of Iran’s accelerating uranium enrichment efforts, ballistic missile advances, and state-sponsored terrorism. It essentially would be a bribe meant to buy a little quiet and kick the can down the road until after the U.S. presidential election.
Under the proposed understanding, which Iranian officials described as a “political cease-fire,” Iran would agree not to enrich uranium beyond 60% purity. Iran supposably also would halt proxy attacks on American forces in Syria and Iraq, expand cooperation with international nuclear inspectors, and refrain from selling ballistic missiles and weaponized drones to Russia.
However, Iran would not have to reduce its enriched uranium stockpile, estimated by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be 4,385 kilograms at varying levels of purity, far above the 300-kilogram limit set by the 2015 nuclear agreement.
In return, the United States is expected to relax sanctions that have hamstrung Iran’s economy, refrain from seizing foreign tankers transporting illicit Iranian oil exports, and rule out punitive resolutions at the United Nations or the International Atomic Energy Agency concerning Iran’s noncompliance with its commitments to nuclear nonproliferation.
In sum, the Biden administration is considering waiving approximately $20 billion in sanctions against Tehran in exchange for limited, temporary, and easily reversed symbolic actions by Iran.
Blinking Red Lights
Emerging details of the proposed deal have triggered alarms over several aspects of the negotiations.
First, rather than the “longer and stronger” nuclear deal promised by the Biden administration when it came into office, the resulting agreement would be nonbinding, weaker than the previous deal, and easily discarded at Tehran’s convenience.
Secondly, the Biden administration appears ready to attempt an illegal end run around Congress by granting Tehran sanctions relief without allowing the lawmakers to review an agreement, as stipulated by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the 2015 law that requires the president to submit such an arrangement to Congress.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote a June 15 letter to Biden warning about the need for congressional oversight: “I urge the administration to remember that U.S. law requires that any agreement, arrangement, or understanding with Iran needs to be submitted to Congress pursuant to INARA [the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act].”
Iran’s radical regime is not likely to be appeased by the billions of dollars offered by Biden, any more than it was by the ransom offered by the Obama administration when Biden was vice president.
In January 2016, when the nuclear deal first was implemented, the Obama administration secured the release of four Americans, in part by releasing seven jailed Iranians and transferring $400 million in cash to Iran. Tehran later seized more hostages.
Although the State Department initially denied that there was any link between the payment and the release of prisoners, a spokesman later admitted that the payments were used as “leverage” to ensure that the Americans would be released.
If the Biden-era hostage deal is another effort to coax the predatory regime in Tehran into a nuclear agreement through a thinly disguised ransom payment, it would greatly undermine U.S. security interests, encourage more hostage-taking, and expose American citizens to greater risks.
Risky Bet on Restraint
The Biden administration appears to be on the verge of concluding a legally nonbinding agreement in principle with a ruthless regime that has no principles except to maintain itself in power and export its Islamist revolution.
What is emerging from more than two years of negotiations is another bad nuclear deal pursued by a complacent administration succumbing to wishful thinking about appeasing Iran’s implacably hostile dictatorship.
Rather than resulting in an effective resolution to Iran’s nuclear challenge and continued terrorist attacks on U.S. troops, partners, and allies in the region, not to mention increasing activity in the Western Hemisphere, the emerging deal would reward the aggressive regime in Tehran with billions of dollars of sanctions relief that only will embolden it and enable future aggression.
Such appeasement will undermine long-term U.S. national security interests, not advance them. If Biden is determined to go down this path, Congress will need to act to defend the United States.