OpinionColumn

Why are we giving Iran $16 billion?

The Biden administration is skirting U.S. law while financially empowering a brutal, duplicitous regime.

The White House in Washington, D.C. Credit: Aaron Kittredge/Pexels.
The White House in Washington, D.C. Credit: Aaron Kittredge/Pexels.
Joseph Epstein
Joseph Epstein
Joseph Epstein is a legislative fellow at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

Two months ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Knesset Foreign Relations Committee that the Biden administration was planning to make a “mini-deal” with Iran to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

Just two weeks ago, the deal was made. Around $16 billion in frozen assets will soon be released to the Iranian regime. The U.S. greenlighted South Korea’s release of $6 billion in escrow and allowed Iraq to unfreeze $10 billion owed to Tehran for natural gas deliveries. In return, Iran diluted a small amount of its enriched uranium stockpile and slowed enrichment.

For several months, the prospect of such a deal received a great deal of attention on Capitol Hill. Some commentators called the proposed deal “shorter and weaker,” even though President Joe Biden had previously promised a “longer and stronger” deal.

According to the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), any agreement made regarding Iran’s nuclear program must be reviewed by Congress. The White House, however, used a workaround, claiming the funds are unrelated to the Iranian nuclear program. Instead, they were a ransom payment for five American hostages held by the Iranian regime.

At $1.2 billion per hostage, this would make the deal the most expensive ransom payment in U.S. history. Despite the lofty sum, however, a retired American resident is still being held in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. Perhaps the administration did not have another $1.2 billion to spare.

The White House has offered no comment on the fact that the hostage deal and Iran’s dilution of its enriched uranium stockpile took place simultaneously. The Biden administration wants to deny any linkage between the two events. This is clearly false, especially considering that the release of these funds was part of past negotiations related to Iran’s nuclear program.

By refusing to submit the agreement to Congress, the Biden administration is deliberately skirting U.S. law while financially empowering a brutal, duplicitous regime. It is doing so on the assumption that if we make concessions to Iran, the Iranians will negotiate in good faith.

But the Iranian regime is not a trustworthy partner. It brutally represses dissidents, sends women who refuse to wear the hijab to psychiatric facilities, allows the poisoning of schoolgirls, uses execution to keep minorities in line, shows no concern for the environment, is the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism and spreads incitement around the Middle East and the world.

The White House knew that Congress would object to its deal, which is likely why they timed the announcement for Congress’ August recess, when emergency hearings cannot be held and resolutions of disapproval cannot be fast-tracked.

The Biden administration’s lack of transparency and outright deception regarding its dealings with Iran has been staggering. Earlier this year, the State Department claimed that then-special envoy to Iran Robert Malley was on leave due to family illness. In fact, Malley’s security clearance had been suspended for “mishandling classified information.”

Malley, a controversial figure not new to political scandals, was an Obama legacy hire and one of the architects of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal). The State Department has yet to tell Congress exactly what information Malley mishandled and how it was mishandled, despite numerous congressional inquiries. The only details available are from Iran’s state-run Tehran Times, which claimed Malley held unauthorized meetings with the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations as well as notable Iranian Americans such as Trita Parsi, a founder and former president of the National Iranian American Council. Parsi has been referred to as a “regime mouthpiece” due to his pro-Tehran views.

The Biden administration’s lack of transparency shows that it knows what it’s doing is both politically unpopular and a violation of U.S. law. While high stakes diplomacy is often carried out in secret, when a deal is made, it is announced. When that deal concerns Iran’s nuclear enrichment, it must be reviewed by Congress in pursuance of INARA.

The Biden administration is not malicious—just naïve. President Biden’s foreign policy team is largely made up of Obama legacy hires who are almost religiously devoted to achieving a deal with Iran. They fervently believe they can coax the Iranian regime to behave better through concessions and goodwill gestures. But if you offer Iran a carrot without the stick, it will eat the carrot and give you nothing.

The administration should have learned this lesson last year, when they held months-long negotiations with the Iranians in Vienna that resulted in the Iranians pocketing all the U.S. concessions while reneging on their own promises. Some of these concessions included sanctions relief on entities closely affiliated with the Iranian state, military and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

According to the Biden administration, the funds released to Iran in exchange for the hostages will go through Qatar and be monitored by the U.S. Treasury Department to make sure they are not in violation of current sanctions. What the U.S. Treasury Department pretends not to understand is that money is fluid. Indeed, former Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that, under the JCPOA, some of the sanctions relief given to Iran would go to terrorism and there was nothing the U.S. could do to stop it.

Next month is the one-year anniversary of the Iranian protests that followed the murder of Mahsa Amini for failing to properly wear a hijab. Iranian security forces expect large demonstrations and have prepared for them via a brutal crackdown that has included disappearing family members of protestors killed last year by the regime. Crackdowns are expensive, and with the Iranian economy in dire straits, the $16 billion the U.S. just unfroze will go a long way.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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