Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Iran’s imprisonment of several Americans amid a swirl of now-disputed rumors that U.S. and British officials were nearing a deal to pay the regime billions to release a handful of people.
“I have no higher priority than bringing arbitrarily detained Americans, American hostages, home to the United States,” Blinken said after a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. “And as Dominic said, the reports coming out of Tehran are not accurate. We are very closely engaged ourselves on this issue, and we’ll remain so. And as I said, I am determined to bring every American home.”
Iran has seized British and American citizens alike, claiming they are subject to legitimate criminal charges — an allegation that Blinken dismissed implicitly by choosing to use the term “hostages.” However, the cases are being discussed in different terms as British officials are explicit that Tehran is using a British national as a bargaining chip to pressure London to pay millions, stemming from a historic dispute, while Iranian officials are careful to claim that they are not using American citizens as a lever for sanctions relief — to the chagrin of Iran hawks who fear that a de facto ransom payment is in the offing.
“If the past is prologue, we should anticipate some kind of unacknowledged deal to pay Iran for the release of American hostages alongside the return to JCPOA,” former White House National Security Council official Richard Goldberg, who worked on Iran issues in former President Donald Trump’s administration, told the Washington Examiner. “There might be a shortage of pallets around due to the pandemic, but they’ll find a way to pay the mullahs’ extortion racket.”
That comment was an allusion to President Barack Obama’s decision to send $1.7 billion to Iran in 2016 to settle a decades-old arms deal dispute, but $400 million of that payment was delivered in cash in conjunction with the implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the release of five Americans held by the regime.
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