With the Iran nuclear deal set to go into effect later today, a prisoner exchange between Iran and the U.S. has been announced, with the Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian among the most prominent among the prisoners set to be released. The Wall Street Journal:
“In line with the Supreme National Security Council approvals and general expedience of the system, four dual-nationality Iranian prisoners have been freed today under exchange mechanism,” Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi said.
A state television report said those freed included Mr. Rezaian; Amir Hekmati, a former Marine from Arizona; and Saeed Abedini, an ex-Muslim convert to Christianity. A fourth person named Nosratollah Khosravi was also released, it said.
Seven Iranian prisoners held by the U.S. were to be released as part of the exchange, state television said, but they weren’t named. Another 14 Iranians wanted by Interpol at U.S. request would no longer be pursued, it added.
U.S. officials didn’t immediately comment on the announcement of a release.
A fifth U.S. citizen, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, disappeared in Iran in 2007, and Iran has denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. Another U.S. citizen, Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, detained approximately three months ago, wasn’t mentioned.
The Guardian notes that another Iranian source identified the seven Iranian prisoners as those being held by the United States for circumventing sanctions against Iran.
It appears as if the moderate Iranian strategy continues to be to honor the terms of the nuclear deal and cozy up to Obama on a limited number of issues, all while keeping an absolutely free hand to advance Iranian power in the region. The calculus is that its regional and economic gains will more than make up for any slowdown on the nuclear front. Ultimately, this is not a good thing from the perspective of U.S. interests. What would be a sign of better times would be evidence that Iran was preparing to moderate its regional stance. Unfortunately, there is little evidence at hand.