The timing of Iran’s release of four American hostages was no coincidence; rather, it confirmed that Iran was willing to hold American hostages as a chit to cash in for political and diplomatic concession. In this case, the price was high: By tying the hostage release to the lifting of sanctions, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry effectively paid Iran $25 billion per hostage. The added irony was that it agreed to release Iranian or Iranian-American prisoners who had been convicted of seeking to evade sanctions in order to export technology that Iran needed for its covert nuclear and missile programs. From The Tower:

The partial release of innocent Americans convicted and effectively held hostage by Iran’s theocratic judiciary – branded a “triumph of diplomacy” by NIAC ­– has resulted in the Obama administration releasing seven Iranians – six of whom hold dual U.S. citizenship – charged with involvement in terrorism and smuggling related to Iran’s illicit nuclear activities. According to Fars, the seven Iranians are Nader Modanlou, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghahi, Arash Ghahreman, Touraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh, and Ali Sabounchi.

Maryland resident Modanlou was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013 for providing satellite-related services to Iran, which helped Tehran launch its first observation satellite in 2005. Mechanic was arrested in April 2015 for conspiring to send sensitive electronics to Iran’s defense and nuclear agencies. Faridi, Mechanic’s nephew, was also implicated in the case, as was Afghahi, whose indictment stated that he and Mechanic would obtain lists of goods wanted in Iran and ship them to a company in Taiwan, which would forward them on to Turkey and from there to Iran.

Ghahreman was convicted in April 2015 for conspiring to buy marine navigation and military electronic equipment and ship it to Iran. Golestaneh, a hacker, pleaded guilty last month to participating in a cyber-attack against a U.S. defense contractor. Sabounchi was indicted in 2013 for attempting to illegally provide Iran with U.S.-made industrial products, some of which are used for military purposes. The goods in question were worth several millions of dollars.

The fact that the logic underpinning Obama and Kerry’s outreach is akin to the Reagan-era “Arms for Hostages” deal, which was pilloried by Democrats (not without good reason), is also ironic. That episode began with the desire to engage Iranian moderates in order to privilege them vis-à-vis more hardline factions. And while Iran did release hostages in exchange for military spare parts, as soon as Iranian authorities received the last planeload of equipment, their proxies promptly seized three more hostages in the space of two weeks. As for the notion that there was significant division between the hardline and more pragmatic factions? That quickly evaporated when Tehran received what it wanted. Years later, Iranian ‘pragmatist’ Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ridiculed National Security Advisor Robert “Bud” McFarlane’s naiveté. Speaking in a 2008 interview to the Iranian website Agahsazi, Rafsanjani quipped, “Have you forgotten that Irishman McFarlane came here and our authorities were not willing to talk to him; he was stuck with our second and third rate authorities?”

If the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps released the American sailors and other hostages it captured because it did not want them to be an impediment in their receipt of sanctions relief, then it is worth considering what the United States will have to pay when Iranian authorities seize additional Americans. Given the history of Iranian behavior, that is likely now only a matter of time.

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