Using Similar Playbooks, Iran and Cuba Successfully Coerce Obama

Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Yesterday, Iran's regime secured invaluable political legitimacy, a tightened grip on power, acquiescence to its regional misbehavior and over $100 billion in sanctions relief from the Obama Administration.

In return, it "promised" -- similar to North Korea's pledge to Bill Clinton in 1994 -- to postpone its nuclear arms program.

Last December, Cuba's regime secured invaluable political legitimacy, a tightened grip on power, acquiescence to its regional misbehavior, limited sanctions relief and its removal from the state-sponsors of terrorism list.

In return, it gave nothing.

Both of these bad deals were the product of coercion.

And, as we've written before, any policy that stems from coercion is never in the best interest of the United States.

Read carefully (below) how the seeds of the secret negotiations with Iran were sown -- through a 2009 note seeking the release of four convicted prisoners in the United States, who were coveted by Iran's regime.

Sound familiar?

Guess who -- soon thereafter -- took an American hostage seeking the release of five coveted prisoners (including one convicted for the murder conspiracy of Americans) in the United States -- and much more?

You guessed it -- Raul Castro.

And it worked.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Secret Dealings With Iran Led to Nuclear Talks

Iran secretly passed to the White House beginning in late 2009 the names of prisoners it wanted released from U.S. custody, part of a wish list to test President Barack Obama’s commitment to improving ties and a move that set off years of clandestine dispatches that helped open the door to nuclear negotiations.

The secret messages, via an envoy sent by the Sultan of Oman, also included a request to blacklist opposition groups hostile to Iran and increase U.S. visas for Iranian students, according to officials familiar with the matter. The U.S. eventually acceded to some of the requests, these officials said, including help with the release of four Iranians detained in the U.S. and U.K.: two convicted arms smugglers, a retired senior diplomat and a prominent scientist convicted of illegal exports to Iran.

In some cases, the convicted Iranians had served their full sentences, but U.S. authorities worked with Oman to grant them a quick exit. Rather than spending months in immigration detention centers awaiting deportation proceedings, like many foreigners, the U.S. allowed departures within days of their release.

Matthew Kohn, who represented one of the convicted smugglers, Amir Hossein Seirafi, said: “He walked out of prison, and the U.S. Marshals got him on a plane within 48 hours. It was the quickest thing we ever saw.”

Iran also campaigned for the release of Shahrzad Mir Gholikan, who was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to more than five years for illegally exporting night-vision equipment to Iran from Europe. Iranian state TV showed one of the American hikers in custody, Sarah Shourd, posing with Ms. Gholikan’s twin daughters and calling for their mother’s release.

Ms. Gholikan returned to Iran via Oman in August 2012, nearly a year after Ms. Shourd’s release. U.S. officials denied it was a prisoner swap because Ms. Gholikan had served her sentence.

In December 2012, the U.K. government released from house arrest a former Iranian ambassador to Jordan who also had been charged with shipping night-vision equipment to Iran. The U.S. had been seeking to extradite the ambassador, Nosratollah Tajik, for nearly five years on suspicion of illegal exports but ceased its efforts in 2012, current and former U.S. officials said. The Iranian diplomat was among those on the list of prisoners the Iranians sought freed, according to the two officials who viewed it.

A month later, in January 2013, Oman helped expedite the release of Mr. Seirafi, convicted of export violations in 2010. And in April 2013, the U.S. released an Iranian scientist detained in California.

The scientist, Mojtaba Atarodi, was a professor at Tehran’s prestigious Sharif University. The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned departments at the school for having alleged roles in developing Iran’s nuclear program.

U.S. authorities arrested Mr. Atarodi in December 2011 when he arrived in Los Angeles but kept his court case sealed. He was convicted of shipping banned items to Iran just days before he returned to Tehran via Oman.

Mr. Kohn, who also represented Mr. Atarodi, said U.S. law-enforcement officials told him of pressure from Iran to resolve the case quickly. “I’d get phone calls from the U.S. attorney’s office where they would say, ‘There is activity around your client, but it’s not coming from us,’” he said. “‘It’s diplomatic activity.’”

Mr. Atarodi told Iranian state media this year that U.S. officials wanted to swap him for one of the Americans held in Iran, Amir Hekmati. “I told them he is a spy, but I have done nothing wrong,” Mr. Atarodi said.

Mr. Hekmati, a former Marine, and his family have denied the espionage charges. He is serving a 10-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin prison for cooperating with an enemy of Iran.

The Obama administration in each of the cases said it wasn’t swapping prisoners. Many of the cases are sealed or partially sealed, restricting comment by many but not all of those involved.

“No one on either side will say there was a formal prisoner swap. But the release of American and Iranian innocent prisoners served as reciprocal ‘goodwill gestures,’” said Joshua Fattal, one of the American hikers, who was freed by Tehran in September 2011.