Despite outcry over the US-Iran prisoner swap, Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the deal but acknowledged that Iran may use the money for military purposes.  

During an interview with CBS News on Wednesday, Blinken addressed concerns that the deal to release five Iranians in addition to $6 billion of the frozen assets in exchange for five Iranian-Americans who were held hostage could encourage further hostage-taking. 

“These proceeds from Iran’s oil sales, they’ve always been entitled to use. Just as a practical matter, they couldn’t. But the other thing is whether we like it or not – and we don’t like it – the Iranians have always found ways to use money, whether there are sanctions or not, for military purposes," Blinken said, describing the agreement as a hard decision. "These are hard decisions, hard decisions for the president to make.”

However, a few minutes earlier in the interview, he had claimed that “we made an arrangement with the bank in question – this is a bank in Qatar – to make sure that we would have clear visibility over the way the money is spent,” claiming that if it is not being spent for humanitarian reasons such as food and medicine, “it’ll get shut down.”

The top US diplomat reiterated that “From day one for our sanctions, this has always been exempt, being able to use money, including by Iran, for humanitarian purposes – it’s always been exempt from our sanctions.”

US officials arrange a group photo after freed Iranian-Americans Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, Reza Behrouzi and Fakhr al-Sadat Moeini arrived at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, September 19, 2023.

Countless activists and politicians – mainly Republicans – have voiced opposition to the exchange, saying financial reward in a hostage situation will incentivize future hostage-taking. 

The sentiment was echoed by several editorial articles in the past few days, even by the Washington Post, whose editorial board has predominantly endorsed Democrats in various elections. 

The Post said the prisoner deal rewards noxious regimes and continues a miserable cycle of state-sponsored hostage-taking, “a barbaric practice that thrives on rewards and concessions from the United States and other nations.”

The daily pointed out that even if the Biden administration manages to step up monitoring on how the released money will be disbursed, the economic boost “will undoubtedly free up other funds to spend on more nefarious purposes, such as buying weapons.”

Highlighting that too many Americans remain unjustly held in Russia, Venezuela, Syria, and elsewhere around the world, the Post said these regimes view hostages as “a currency to be traded for future gain.” 

It argued that the best deterrent to end this vicious cycle would be for the United States and other nations to refuse to negotiate for the release of such hostages, otherwise, “Rogue states clang the jail door shut and wait for the next payoff, and they almost never suffer consequences for stealing people off the street.” “The harsh truth is that rewarding hostage-taking breeds more of the same.”

In another editorial highlighting somewhat similar concerns, The Wall Street Journal Tuesday delved into the question of how Biden could prevent future attempts at ransom grabs. It underlined that the Islamic Republic has paid no price for imprisoning Americans and has now been paid ransom for them, calling it “part of Tehran’s business model" which works fine for the regime.

The Journal calls it “insulting” that White House National Security Council official Brett McGurk claims that the funds will be spent “only on a limited category of humanitarian trade: food, medicine and agricultural products,” saying that McGurk may be technically right about those specific funds. “But that leaves the Tehran regime able to devote other funds they would have spent on those goods for such malevolent purposes as terrorism by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

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