Iran will release Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three other detained Iranian Americans on Saturday in exchange for at least six people imprisoned or charged in the United States, Iranian officials said, a swap linked to the imminent implementation of a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers....We're told that the prisoners' release "was not part of" the nuclear deal. Officially, that may be true, but I've imagined all along that the release was worked out as part of the deal negotiations, and that the Iranians just wanted to put some distance between the announcement of the deal and the release.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry frequently raised the plight of Rezaian and other imprisoned U.S. citizens during last year’s nuclear negotiations, but their release was not part of the resulting agreement between Iran and the six world powers: the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany....
The Americans’ release came as the International Atomic Energy Agency prepared to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, triggering steps to lift U.N. sanctions against the country and return an estimated $50 billion in frozen Iranian funds. (Tens of billions more in frozen funds are to be used to pay Iranian debts.)
Republicans, of course, said the prisoners had been abandoned by the Obama administration, a view echoed by Very Serious People who claim not to be right-wing partisans.
I thought the release had been delayed by the Iranians as a means of saving face, but now I assume the delay was tied to the lifting of sanctions.
Thank you, President Obama and Secretary Kerry, for staying the course, and for keeping cool as the haters howled.
But now what are we supposed to think about this week's capture of a U.S. Navy patrol boat by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and the quick release of the boat and crew by the Iranian government? Glenn Greenwald is pointing out that the official story has changed:
When news first broke of the detention of two U.S. ships in Iranian territorial waters, the U.S. media ... uncritically cited the U.S. government’s explanation for what happened. One of the boats, we were told, experienced “mechanical failure” and thus “inadvertently drifted” into Iranian waters....Greenwald doesn't believe the new story, either:
The U.S. government itself now says this story was false. There was no engine failure, and the boats were never “in distress.” Once the sailors were released, AP reported, “In Washington, a defense official said the Navy has ruled out engine or propulsion failure as the reason the boats entered Iranian waters.”
Instead, said Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at a press conference this morning, the sailors “made a navigational error that mistakenly took them into Iranian territorial waters.”
It is, of course, theoretically possible that this newest rendition of events is what happened. But there are multiple reasons to suspect otherwise. To begin with, U.S. sailors frequently travel between Bahrain and Kuwait, two key U.S. allies, the former of which hosts the Fifth Fleet headquarters; these were familiar waters.I don't believe it, either -- but I don't think it was a sinister act. The parties to the nuclear deal have been working out the process of lifting the sanctions on Iran; my guess is that this incursion by the U.S. Navy was a test of Iran's goodwill as this moment approached. Hardliners ultimately didn't control the process, the Iranian government resolved the crisis swiftly -- and so our sense that we can work with these these guys was confirmed. Plausible?
Moreover, at no point did either of the ships notify anyone that they had inadvertently “misnavigated” into Iranian territorial waters, a significant enough event that would warrant some sort of radio or other notification.... Beyond that, “misnavigating” within a few miles of an Iranian Guard Corps naval base is a striking coincidence....
This was obviously the result of Obama administration diplomacy, but I wonder if some Republican -- Trump? Cruz? Santorum? Tom Cotton? -- will claim that the prisoners were released because the Iranians have looked at the polls and are now certain, as Ted Cruz said in this week's debate, that the next commander in chief will be a tough, manly Republican. That would be plausible, right? They're so scared of a GOP administration that they'd release these prisoners ... a year before our next presidential inaugural?