Despite the conflict between Iran and Syria with the US acting as a middleman of sorts for Syria, the two nations are coming together through an informal prisoner swap. Using Qatar and the United Kingdom as intermediaries, the two countries “have made progress” according to four anonymous sources to NBC News.
While unclear how soon the deal could be reached, the targets for each side are clear. Tehran would set free American detainees in their custody and the US would give South Korea the signal to unfreeze billions of dollars. This money had been frozen by US sanctions in the South Korean banking system. It would also come with conditions that the money could only be used to purchase food, medicine, or other humanitarian activities. Up for discussion is having Qatar oversee the transfer of the money.
US State Department Spokesman Ned Price was asked about these reports, and while slightly ambiguous, he gave a good indication of things going in the right direction. He claimed he was “not able to get into the details of what it is that may be underway,” as the partners in the discussions between allies and partners were “sensitive.”
“What is not sensitive and what I repeat just about every time the question is posed is that we’ve been unambiguous with the Iranian regime about the priority we attach to seeing the safe and prompt returns of the three Americans that are currently wrongfully held in Iran.” These talks are running in conjunction with the stalled efforts to get the 2015 nuclear deal back in action. Under the deal, Tehran would scale back its nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions against their economy being lifted.
In 2018, President Trump saw what Tehran was doing despite the agreement, so he abandoned it. His outlook on compliance being a necessity for them to keep the deal was something Iran and other nations decried, but given their blatant actions, he was left with little recourse unless he was to act like it hadn’t happened.
Since then, the protests in Tehran and allegations of Iran providing drones and other arms to Russia have put an even deeper strain on Iranian-US relations. According to the US State Department, three known US citizens are currently detained in Tehran – Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and Morad Tahbaz.
Namazi’s recent 7-day hunger strike seemed to have reinvigorated the quest to find a deal. Last month a National Security Council member said “We are working tirelessly to bring him home along with all US citizens who are wrongfully detained in Iran. Iran’s wrongful detention of US citizens for use as political leverage is outrageous.”
Despite having a policy against negotiating with terrorists, the US government seems to abandon those statements when it suits them best. This tends to be most often when the Democrats are in office, and they have made some ignorant swaps over the years too. Often coming out on the short end of the stick, recent transactions with both Russia and the Taliban (by Biden and Obama respectively) have left the US getting the short end of the stick.
While little is publicly known about each of these three men, this is a large sum (financially) to give up to get them back. While it is not money out of the American taxpayer’s pocket or even money that we could have tangibly made anything with, it is money that Iran can misuse, or use to allow the reallocation of any “humanitarian” actions they had planned to more nefarious activities.
Prisoner swaps can be a healthy thing when done correctly. Unfortunately, they rarely are, and for the US, it is incredibly unfortunate. We have all these laws of compassion and fair treatment, so these prisoners are treated better than they are in their home country. Yet, Americans imprisoned in places like North Korea and Iran are treated worse than sewer rats. Getting them back to the comfort of America should be a top priority, but it needs to be equitable.