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The U.S. Reneges On Another Deal
The decision makes no sense on the merits, and it seems to be driven entirely by the administration’s desire to mollify hawkish critics that will never be satisfied by anything Biden does.
The Washington Post reports that the Biden administration is apparently reneging on a major part of the prisoner exchange agreement with Iran:
U.S. officials and the Qatari government have agreed to stop Iran from accessing a $6 billion account for humanitarian assistance in light of Hamas’s attack on Israel, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told House Democrats on Thursday, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private remarks.
Other outlets have published similar reports today. The decision makes no sense on the merits, and it seems to be driven entirely by the administration’s desire to mollify hawkish critics that will never be satisfied by anything Biden does. The money in question belongs to Iran, and the release of funds was set up in such a way that it couldn’t be used for anything except humanitarian trade.
Blocking the funds that the U.S. promised to release is churlish. It harms only Iranian civilians, as they will not be able to benefit from the imports of food and medicine that this money could have paid for. Ordinary Iranians are once again being punished for the crimes of others, and in this case the others aren’t even in Iran.
Sina Toossi explains why it is such a bad idea for the U.S. to go back on its promise:
Biden’s apparent betrayal of his own Iran deal will have serious consequences for regional stability and global security. It sends yet another signal to Iran that the US cannot be trusted as a partner. It will likely result in Iran accelerating its nuclear program and retaliating against US interests and allies in the region.
The prisoner exchange deal was a relatively modest agreement, but it was one in which both sides got something and everyone involved came away better off than they were before. Toossi described it in a previous post as a “rare breakthrough for U.S.-Iran relations.” That agreement showed that the U.S. and Iran could successfully negotiate a compromise if they were willing to be a bit flexible. The prisoner exchange took as long as it did partly because the administration was so reluctant to offer any sanctions relief, no matter how small, and now they are going back on their word after Iran has already lived up to their end of the bargain. As Toossi says, reneging on the promised release of funds is a gift to hardliners in Iran, and it undermines U.S. diplomacy with Iran and with other states by proving yet again that our government’s promises are meaningless.
It has been clear enough over the last two years that the Biden administration doesn’t value diplomacy if it involves real compromise with adversaries. They refuse to take the first step in confidence-building measures, they put minimal effort into negotiations, and in the rare event that they actually secure an agreement they are ready to go back on it just a few weeks later. Every step of the way, they insist that “the ball” is in the other government’s “court” as a way of excusing their own inaction.
Diplomatic engagement is the only realistic way to address the the nuclear issue in a constructive fashion, but by reneging on this agreement the Biden administration has proven to the Iranian government that it would be foolish for them to negotiate anything else with Biden. If Biden can’t even follow through on this small agreement that provides strictly controlled sanctions relief, what chance is there that he would ever be prepared to honor the full terms of the old JCPOA or anything like it?
Jamal Abdi is right when he calls this decision a “purely political move to cave to bad faith critics.” We know from past experience that Iran hawks seize on capitulations like this to increase their demands and agitate for even more aggressive policies. It’s an embarrassing surrender to some of the worst people in Washington.