Iranian-German national Jamshid Sharmahd during a court hearing in Tehran

Iran Wants $2.5 Billion For Dual National Hostage

Monday, 03/11/2024

Iran has demanded that the US and a detained dual national Jamshid Sharmahd, who is on death row, must pay $2.5 billion, signaling Tehran's latest attempt at hostage diplomacy.

A court in Tehran ruled Monday that German-Iranian Sharmahd and the United States government should pay the amount as compensation for the families of the victims of a terrorist attack in Iran, of which Sharmahd is accused.

Sharmahd, a 68-year-old software developer and California resident, was abducted by Iranian agents during a visit to the United Arab Emirates in 2020 and forcibly taken to Iran. In February 2023, the Iranian judiciary sentenced him to death on charges of endangering national security a verdict upheld by Iran's Supreme Court. Sharmahd was convicted of heading a pro-monarchist group named Tondar accused of a deadly bombing incident that occurred in 2008 at a religious center in Shiraz, killing 14 and injuring 215 more. However, many years ago other people were already arrested and convicted for the bombing.

However, Sharmahd along with his family and lawyers have denied the charges and Iran has provided no evidence to support its allegations. Amnesty International has condemned the trial as a sham.

A hearing session for Jamshid Sharmahd on September 12, 2023

The US-based activist whose group Tondar purportedly aims to restore the overthrown monarchy, toppled in the 1979 revolution, is believed to have been forced to confess to the charges against him, in a typical fashion of forced confessions.

Iran’s change of approach towards the case seemed like a detour to gain concessions from the US in exchange for reducing Sharmad's death sentence. The Biden administration last year agreed to release at least $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds for the release of five hostages similarly convicted in sham trials. The Qatar-brokered deal to free up frozen Iranian funds in South Korea in exchange for five US citizens, led to allegations that the Biden administration is playing a dangerous game encouraging the hostage-taking of yet more dual nationals abroad.

The recent ruling by the Islamic Republic's judiciary is seen as a way to pressure the United States and Germany to pay what amounts to a ransom for Sharmad's release. The Islamic Republic has a history of taking hostages and using them as bargaining chips in negotiations.

Many former officials and experts from the US and other countries, as well as Iranian dissidents, had warned that the prisoner release deal with Iran would set a dangerous precedent” and would only encourage the regime for taking more hostages. "This will only encourage more hostage taking by the Iranian terrorists” the former US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said.

Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former White House National Security Council director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction, had echoed such fears. “President Joe Biden’s decision to trade $6 billion for five American citizens unlawfully detained in Tehran isn’t just the largest hostage ransom payment in American history—it’s also the second phase of an unacknowledged agreement with Tehran that strengthens the ayatollah’s position in the Middle East and frees the regime to cross the nuclear weapons threshold at a time of its choosing. Americans need to brace themselves for the consequences of both realities.”

It is not the first time Iran has won in the hostage diplomacy stakes. In 2015, President Barack Obama agreed to pay Tehran $1.7bn for the release of four Americans as part of the broader negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal.

Iran took more hostages in the months and years thereafter, believing it could get an even better price from a future US president. While the Trump administration turned to pressure instead of ransoms and won the release of two hostages without paying any money, under President Biden, ransom payments have returned at multiple times the cost. While the Obama administration paid $425 million per American in 2015, the Biden administration agreed to pay $1.2 billion.

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