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Source: Politico

Aug 14, 2023

The backlash to Biden’s Iran deal is fierce


With help from Nahal Toosi

The Biden administration’s deal to bring imprisoned Americans home from Iran has gained its critics and stirred a fight.

The backlash to the agreement — the release of five detained Americans in exchange for several imprisoned Iranians and access to $6 billion in frozen assets for certain humanitarian purposes — comes mainly from conservatives and some members of the Iranian-American community. They start with the argument, made by presidential candidates RON DeSANTIS and MIKE PENCE among others, that the pact is a “ransom payment.”

Opponents contend that giving the ruling clerics a financial lifeline boosts Tehran while it’s weak. KYLIE MOORE-GILBERT, a British-Australian academic held in Iran for more than 800 days, recently said the funds will “incentivize” Tehran to take more Westerners.

Critics also insist Tehran will use much of the $6 billion to conduct terrorist attacks and target U.S. troops in the region. A Trump-style “maximum pressure” campaign would be better suited to bringing Americans home, they argue.

There’s also displeasure after Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN seemed to say he was “not aware” of any other Americans or U.S. permanent residents left in Iran, even though at least two permanent residents — SHAHAB DALILI and German citizen JAMSHID SHARMAHD — remain in Iranian custody. Neither man has been deemed “wrongfully detained” by the U.S. government.

The administration is pushing back.

VEDANT PATEL, deputy State Department spokesperson, said Monday that U.S. officials have “had the opportunity to speak with the Dalili family.”

National Security Council spokesperson ADRIENNE WATSON told NatSec Daily the $6 billion “isn’t a payment of any kind. These aren’t U.S. dollars. They aren’t taxpayer dollars.” She added: “No one determined to be wrongfully detained in Iran is being ‘left behind.’”

Supporters are weighing in, too, noting U.S. sanctions on Iran have long had exemptions for humanitarian purposes and asserting Washington has worked out the details with South Korea and Qatar — the two countries involved in providing Iran access to the funds.

Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.), who represents a state that’s home to one of the released American prisoners, tweeted Saturday that the $6 billion “can only be used to buy oil and food for people in need.”

The back and forth is reminiscent of the Obama-era debate on whether to enter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The my-Iran-policy-is-better-than-your-Iran-policy broadsides have grown more vitriolic since DONALD TRUMP’s withdrew the U.S. from that deal.

Now this agreement, which will take weeks to implement, cuts to the complexities of freeing Americans held abroad by adversarial nations. Take Russia: It took the transfer of VIKTOR BOUT, an arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” to get BRITTNEY GRINER out of Russian custody, even as PAUL WHELAN was left behind. A prisoner swap could secure EVAN GERSHKOVICH’s release, but the Kremlin may prolong the process.

As multiple officials have long told NatSec Daily: there’s no magic formula for getting Americans back. Doing so often involves some combination of unsavory swap, pressure, shifting circumstances and sheer luck.

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