When I first heard the news that today was the day western sanctions were lifted against Iran AND five Americans were released from Iranian prison, it seemed like winning a diplomatic lottery. What better news could there be if you believe in negotiations over war? Not only had the Obama administration and Iran found a way to defuse an explosive issue that could easily have led to regional war, but the biggest cudgel the right-wing was using against the Democrats was also nullified.
The GOP argument went: not only did the nuclear deal not achieve enough, but Obama refused to use our leverage to compel Iran to change its “aggressive” behavior in the region. Why didn’t the U.S. demand that Iran cease support for Hezbollah and the Syrian regime while he had the Iranians by the short hairs?
While it’s true that today’s events don’t resolve very large geostrategic issues like this, they do take a mighty big chunk out the Republican foreign policy agenda. With one stroke both nations erased the messaging of the entire GOP presidential ensemble. And Obama has ensured one of the major foreign policy legacies of his administration.
The IAEA has certified that Iran is well on the way to dismantling a major portion of its nuclear program: centrifuges, reactors, enriched uranium. Now what will Republicans have to run on? Benghazi? Good luck to ’em.
A perfect example of the shorn wings of the neocons is this press statement released by Aipac:
Implementation Day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a turning point in Iran’s strength as a terrorist state and in its ability to pursue regional dominance. Starting today, Iran can repatriate tens of billions of dollars from frozen foreign accounts, fueling its efforts to expand its reach across the region. The international community will dismantle its elaborate sanctions regime, and Iran will start down the path to legitimize its illicit nuclear program.
No, the Israel Lobby and the neocons aren’t about to concede defeat graciously. They’re going to go down with the ship, all the way to the very last bitter end.
One of the Americans released I knew personally though not well. He is Matt Trevithick, a former researcher at the Woodrow Wilson Center and the specialist in the peoples and cultures of Afghanistan. Our acquaintance happened via e-mail and revolved around my blog. I don’t even remember why he wrote me. I do recall he said that his mom was an editor at the Christian Science Monitor. Given how difficult it is for me to get access to the mainstream media, I’d hoped that might be an asset. But nothing came of it. Eventually, Matt moved to the region and we lost touch.
I’m delighted he’s freed. I never even knew he’d been arrested and spent the last forty days in Evin Prison. All I can say is: welcome to freedom, Matt and welcome home.
There are two other prisoners who pose great mysteries, each a different one. The fifth detainee freed by the Iranians is someone that not only no one knew was in prison, but no one even knows anything about him except his name: Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari:
Obama administration officials refused to offer any clues about Khosravi-Roodsari’s background, why he was in Iran, or why he had been imprisoned, citing privacy laws.
Though the invocation of privacy laws implies that he may be a U.S. citizen (and a number of blogs have reported that he is), news media have been careful not to call him American in their reporting. I’ve been asking contacts and sources who he is, but coming up short so far. My guess, and this is purely speculation, is that he is an Iranian or dual national with ties to U.S. intelligence.
UPDATE: A well-informed source tells me that Khosravi-Roodsari did not leave Iran on his release as the other prisoners did. This indicates, though doesn’t confirm definitively, that he may not be a dual citizen. It would also seem to indicate that he was not a U.S. intelligence asset. If that were so, he would likely not remain in Iran.
The second mystery prisoner was not freed today. But he is Iranian-American and has been in prison there for months. He is Namazi Siamak, member of a prosperous family in the oil business. He is both a businessman and someone with a vision that embraces reconciliation between Iran and the U.S. No one knows why he was arrested. Though a shameless pseudonymous smear about him was published in the Daily Beast just before his arrest. That certainly might’ve raised suspicions about him and his motives within Iran’s intelligence services. At one time, Siamak had been affiliated with the National Iranian American Council, which has sworn enemies among the neocon Beltway set and the MeK. The profile about him was so full of lies that it seemed to have been manufactured in an MeK sausage factory.
No one knows why he wasn’t released today. But I hope he will be soon.
Whether JCPOA goes down as another Munich or as a masterstroke of diplomacy…. Is really all speculation right now. Iran is definitely getting a whole lot of “goodies” and getting stronger all around. Whether this will lead to “moderation” and “reform” or to an altogether different path only time will tell, though this is definitely a risky move.
unlike -Cuba- (kudos to Obama on the courage to act) where thawing relations (which really continued by its own intertia) had essentially almost no risk and only upside, the situation with Iran is much more complex and dangerous.
implementation of JCPOA and the impending 20-50 billion dollars worth of arm deals for Iran makes direct -war- (as opposed to the mult-front proxy war) between the house of Saud and Iran much more likely in the 1-18 month timeframe. The military balance at the moment favors Saud -somewhat-, and they can choke off Iran by blockading the gulf.
The military balance, five years from now, will probably be decidedly in Iran’s favor.
Richard Silverstein says
@laixii: No actually it isn’t speculation at all. It is a masterstroke of diplomacy to everyone in the world but GOP presdential candidates, Bibi Netanyahu & his apologists here, & a few Saudi royals. Other than that, pretty much everyone else think’s it’s damned splendid.
You’re wrong on Cuba as well. There are many, many Cuban-Americans who still retain hostility to the Castro regime. Warming relations with Cuba could’ve easily backfired.
Whoa, jackass. Read the comment rules. Where’s the beef buddy? You don’t get to go around making lunatic claims like that w/o credible proof. Now provide it or you’ll be moderated here. And read those comment rules again before you try to publish another comment here.
Out of yer cotton-pickin’ mind, you are. Iran has a seasoned, experienced, well armed military that has been fighting enemies in various locations for decades. Saudi Arabia…well, just look at Yemen where they’re only using (misuing) airpower. WHere has their army been tested? Against unarmed Shia protesters in Bahrain? Read this interesting article on comparative military strengths of both nations before you go shooting off yr mouth again.
There is no contest between the 2. Should S.A. be foolish enough to go to war with Iran, they’ll lose face badly & perhaps even threaten their entire dynastic rule.
Cuba – I agree this was an internal political risk (with Cuban-Americans (including democrats) and hardline republicans). However in terms of geostrategic risk – there was none, and the thaw was long in coming (I would say this should have been done 20 years ago – in the post soviet collapse).
For impending arm deals (Iran has very dated military equipment – airforce, armor, and navy – it is only to be expected they will purchase using unfrozen funds and oil revenue), see –
Saudia’s military is definitely less battle proven than Iran. However – even if we disagree on the balance of power -today-, it is quite obvious that Iran’s military will be much stronger in 3-5 years. Instead of flying musem pieces from the Shah’s days (F-14 tomcat, F-5 freedom fighter, F-4 phantom II) they’ll have up to date Russian, Chinese, and French fighters. And likewise for other branches.
Even if Iran has -peaceful- intentions – it will upgrade its military, as this is a definite Iranian need (at the moment Iran is very strong in asymmetric forces, but the conventional military balance in the gulf is tilted due to very dated Iranian equipment).
Richard Silverstein says
@ lepxii: I directed you to use a credible source to prove your baseless claim Iran had $50 billion in arms contracts if would sign after sanctions are lifted. Instead, you offer Algemeiner. That is NOT a credible source. Nor is an Arabic language source even you don’t read or speak (I assume). So offer a credible source to support this or retract it. If you do neither, you are in danger of moderation.
I have no doubt that Iran will spend on its military. It has spent roughly 20 years being unable to do so (except in internal production). Right now, it’s military spending is paltry compared to Saudi Arabia, Israel or the U.S. So even if it goes on a spending spree it will still be spending less than these countries on its military.
I actually do read Arabic (not prose, but news clippings yes). Asharq Alawsat has its biases – but it is an interesting source (in terms of arab press, it is definitely a premier source! It has bias, yes, but so do many outliets). I provided Algemeiner as it quoted it in English.
See Asharq Alawsat in English (21 Billion USD impending) –
There is also an impending (extremely near term) helicopter deal –
Iran buying weapons now is not a sign that they nefarious plans – The airforce is extremely outdated (self-production kept things flying and produced munitions, but indigenous production of a whole platform never really took off (there are a few F-5 clones (HESA Saeqeh, HESA Azarakhsh) in inventory – low rate production)…. The aircraft inventory has a few 1990’s vintage mig-29, but other than that it is old US warplanes, and ex-Iraqi (Russian/French) planes (that date to the 70-80s mostly) that flew over in 1991), and other branches need upgrading. Even if they are completely peaceful in their intentions – they will want to balance the quality gaps with the Saudies. Long term –
[on the same vein – they also bought 114 Airbus civilian planes this week – as they have an equipment gap in the national airline]
You forgot to mention this was a prisoner swap. Iran got 7 prisoners in addition to 14 ppl dropped from watch list.
“The Obama administration, in return, agreed to release seven Iran nationals who were either jailed in the U.S. or facing charges, U.S. and Iranian officials said. The U.S. also agreed to drop the names of 14 Iranian nationals it has been seeking from the watch list of Interpol, the international police agency.” http://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-releases-four-unnamed-american-prisoners-state-tv-says-1452955793
Richard Silverstein says
@ Arik: No it wasn’t a “prisoner swap” in the normal sense. Iranian-Americans accused of violating sanctions had their sentences commuted. They were not “exchanged” or returned to Iran.
Did or didn’t Iran got something in return?
The prisoners weren’t ‘freed’ as if Iran decided to show good faith but rather exchange for some benefit for the Iranian government. So while you might be right to insist it isn’t a prisoners swap in the traditiona;l sense, it is a swap/exchange.
Funny how you aren’t really careful using the words ‘apartheid’ or ‘murder’ in their traditional sense but here you are extra careful.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Arik: You described this as a “prisoner exchange,” which it wasn’t. In such an exchange there is a physical exchange of prisoners on both sides. There wasn’t in this case.
American prisoners went home. But Iranian-American prisoners didn’t. In addition, one prisoner freed on America’s behalf stayed in Iran.
It’s not a prisoner swap in any sense, traditional or otherwise.
You neglect the main point – Iran didn’t just ‘freed’ them but got something in return. Some say the US overpaid.
Regardless, changing the subject and sticking to a specific (wrong) word doesn’t make you right. You are just avoiding the main issue.