President Obama’s Ransom

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Introduction

For the past few years the Obama administration has been at the negotiation table with Iran seeking to find helpful resolutions to issues which have increased international tensions. These negotiations may have reached a beneficial resolution in the eyes of the administration, but the means of adjudicating the newfound agreements appear threatening to Americans. The first payment of the agreed upon $1.7 billion dollars settlement which supported the agreement of a nuclear compromise coincided with the release of American hostages in Iran. The silent substratum of private policy which enabled this move has been hidden by rhetoric for too long, and a new stance on terrorism has been initiated. 

For All Intents & Purposes

President Obama has come under major flak from the American public when it was discovered that he secretly organized a payment of $400 million dollars of cash to Iran coinciding with the release of four American hostages. It came to light that, “Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane, according to these officials. The U.S. procured the money from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland” (Solomon and Lee). This money is said to be the first installment of a $1.7 billion dollars settlement which the Obama administration reached with Iran considering the sale of arms prior to the revolution in Iran (Koran). 

The timing of this action is what has Americans scratching their heads, and it is not helping that the first payment was kept secret. The $1.7 billion dollar settlement, which resolved claims before an international tribunal in The Hague, also coincided with the formal implementation that same weekend of the landmark nuclear agreement reached between Tehran, the U.S. and other global powers the summer before. (Solomon and Lee)

President Obama spoke clearly when these coincidences came to light, affirming that it was simply many factors coming together at the same time. Still the fishy smell persists. John Kirby, State Department spokesman emphasized, as we’ve made clear, the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim…were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home…Not only were the two negotiations separate, conducted by different teams on each side, including, in the case of The Hague claims, by technical experts involved in these negotiations for many years. (Solomon and Lee)

If indeed the two negotiations were entirely separate it would have behooved the administration to 1) separate the times of the payment and release, and 2) make the beginning of payment public. These actions would have gone a long way towards avoiding any appearance of ransom on the part of the United States, and the absence of this consideration sends a powerful message to American and the rest of the world. 

When Rhetoric Shields Policy

For all intents and purposes American policy on terrorism has apparently been a clear declaration of “We will not negotiate with terrorists. Not now. Not Ever.” However, policy analysts and researchers have begun to expose that negotiating with terrorists have been going on for quite some time in America. Thus, the recent indecency on the part of Obama may be a subtle desire to expose this to the public. After the highly publicized ISIS beheadings and prisoner exchange of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, President Obama ordered a review of the U.S. hostage policy (Davis). 

As a result of this review the President made some changes to the hostage policy. First the President affirmed “the government will no longer threaten criminal prosecution of the families of American hostages who are held abroad by groups like the Islamic State if they try to pay ransom for the release of their loved ones” (Davis). This is one of many changes coming, and those who have experience with hostage claims in the U.S. are asking “that the White House name a single, senior-level coordinator-or ‘hostage czar’-accountable to the president, with primary responsibility across the federal government for freeing American captives” (Davis). This position is in the making, and would help families deal with the inevitable result of the American military involvement around the world.

However, these policies are long overdue coming to the light, as America has been negotiating with terrorists for some time. What’s been going on behind the scenes is now being legalized, as; in fact, under Obama, the U.S. government has helped families pay ransoms. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power put the family of journalist Peter Theo Curtis in touch with Qatari officials who helped secure his release from al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the FBI had given the family of American aid worker Warren Weinstein advice on paying ransoms before he was killed by a U.S. drone strike in January, as it has done in numerous other cases. (Keating)

Communication and aid is one thing, while outright paying bribes/ransom (quid-pro-quo) is quite another. This is starkly seen in Latin America where kidnapping, hostage, and ransom is a thriving industry. This is not slowing down as “Latin America has seen a 66% increase in kidnapping for ransom. After a 10-year decline, kidnappings are again on the rise in Colombia. Unfortunately, incidents in other nations in the region also are increasing” (Zuccarello). This has become such a problem it has now been traveling into America. A representative from Griffin Underwriting commented, “Probably the most disturbing fact is that ‘Phoenix, Arizona, has become the kidnapping capital of America, with more incidents than any other city in the world outside of Mexico City’” (Zuccarello). This trend continues to grow both around the world and at home. 

In the light of these trends Obama’s action does not appear innocent. Especially when “U.S. officials also acknowledge that Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible” (Solomon and Lee). Senator Tom Cotton (Republican from Arkansas) claims, “’This break with longstanding U.S. policy put a price on the head of Americans, and has led Iran to continue its illegal seizures’ of Americans” (Solomon and Lee). Indeed it is difficult to see how this is not the case. If it is so it would behoove people to know the elements of the Iranian nuclear deal which these agreements enabled for balancing perspectives. 

The Iranian Nuclear Deal

The weighty settlement agreed upon between the U.S. and Iran provided the lubrication for the agreement of the nuclear deal with the president has said with its faults will still buy the U.S. a decade of assured peace. Six main elements emerge out the 100 page technical schematic that is the legal deal:

1. It Would Curb Iran's Nuclear Programs

2. But It Still Allows Iran To Continue Enrichment

3. The U.S. Says The Deal Makes An Iranian Nuclear Bomb More Difficult

4. If Iran Doesn't Comply, Sanctions Can Return

5. It Sets Up A Comprehensive Inspections Regime

6. Congress Has To Approve The Deal (NPR)

Firstly, this deal opens up Iran to work with other nations, and this collaboration could go a long way towards slowing the radicalism which has spread there. Their agreement would “In practical terms, it puts limits on many of Iran's nuclear programs. For example: Iran has agreed to turn its Fordow facility into a research center where Iranian and world scientists will work side by side” (NPR). Since nothing was going to stop Iran’s nuclear progress, the administration thought is best to ensure safety for the region. For example, with this move Iran “has also agreed to rebuild its Arak heavy-water reactor, which is currently the only site in Iran capable of starting production on weapons-grade plutonium. Under the deal, the site would be rebuilt using a design approved by the international community” (NPR). This design is meant for research and not for cultivating weapons.  

Full Disclosure

It appears that the Obama administration did indeed pay a ransom, and the implications for this change is overt behavior is alarming. The American public desires more disclosure of policy changes which are going to affect them, and how they are being used as lubrication for international peace making. During the release of the prisoners it was said, “’The plight of these individuals is they have done it and we have paid a price. We paid a price in a major way to bring them home,’ said Representative Robert Pittenger upon their release’” (CBS). This language appears subtly (not so subtly) coded an a anmission of guilt. 

The payment happened at the exact same time as the release, and if this is not intentional it reveals an exceptional level of impropriety on behalf of the government. Especially since, “But the administration never consulted congress, according to Republican Congressman Ed Royce, who accused the White House of paying ransom to a state sponsor of terrorism, and as details of the cash became public” (CBS). This action appears to verify many of the villainous comments made about President Obama’s administration. As Presidential Nominee Mike Pence emphasized, “You know we cannot have four more years accommodating and apologizing to our enemies or abandoning our friends” (CBS). If indeed more disclosure is occurring between U.S. and Iran than between the U.S. and its citizens than this instance is only a harbinger of more inconsistencies to come. 

Conclusion

American policy for negotiating with terrorists is clearly changed, the degree to which is unclear. The Obama administration has been favoring collaboration and support over extreme measures which fan the flames of isolationism and resentment. This is a radical policy shift which is ultimately placing trust where trust has not been placed before. It is alarming that the American public has not been involved in the discussion of how they are being represented in hostage and terror scenarios. The implications for these obvious changes are alarming for Americans with the rise in kidnapping for ransom industry. 

Works Cited

CBS. “Report: U.S. sent $400M cash to Iran as American detainees freed.” CBS, 3 Aug. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/report-u-s-sent-400m-cash-to-iran-as-american-detainees-freed/

Davis, Julie Hirschfeld. “Obama Ordering changed in U.S. Hostage Policies.” The New York Times, 23 Jun. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/world/obama-ordering-changes-in-us-hostage-policies.html?_r=0

Keating, Joshua. “We Do Negotiate With Terrorists.” Slate, 27 May 2015. 

Koran, Laura. “U.S. to pay Iran $1.7 billion in legal settlement.” CNN, 17 Jan. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/17/politics/us-pays-iran-1-7-billion/

NPR. “6 Things You Should Know About The Iran Nuclear Deal.” NPR, 14 Jul. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/07/14/422920192/6-things-you-should-know-about-the-iran-nuclear-deal

Solomon, Jay, and Carol E. Lee. “U.S. Sent Cash to Iran as Americans Were Freed.” The Wall Street Journal, 3 Aug. 2016.

Zuccarello, Frank. “Kidnapping for Ransom.” The Rough Notes Company, 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.roughnotes.com/rnmagazine/2011/may2011/2011_05p084.htm