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No to Money for Hostages

(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

“When I was imprisoned in Iran, I made it clear to the Swiss ambassador to let the Trump administration know not to offer any money in exchange for my release.”

News reports are emerging from several sources indicated that there is an effort underway to secure the release of four American citizens held hostage in Iran. According to these reports, Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, is going to present an offer to the Iranian regime to release approximately $10 billion dollars in frozen Iranian assets in exchange for releasing these hostages. (This discussion takes place amid renewed negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal, the subject of my previous op-ed.) Of course, for this offer to work, the United States Department of State, under the direction of the White House, clearly has to approve of it. If these preliminary reports are accurate, this should be a very disturbing development indeed. Since the beginning of its current regime, Iran has used its hostage-taking enterprise to further its geopolitical objectives. This proposed course of action should be rejected by the United States government and the American public for multiple reasons.  

Any frozen assets or money should not go back to the current Iranian regime. In reality, Iran is flush with money and works with several countries such as China and Russia to circumvent sanctions, and the only reason the regime seems to be hard up for cash is because so much money is being directed to support its terrorist infrastructure beyond its borders, extending to Hezbollah, Houthis, Hamas, and Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq and elsewhere. If Iran were really using its revenue legitimately, the Iranian people would probably be well cared for, but it is difficult for Tehran to take care of its own people when the regime’s priorities lie outside of Iran. Releasing $10 billion dollars to the regime would only go to further these activities. Can the Biden administration really deny that?  

The next reason this should be rejected is because it sends a bad message and creates a precedent that will only encourage the Iranian regime to continue abducting foreigners and taking them hostage. If Iran’s behavior is further enabled, it will only do it again. As any psychologist would say, “If you reward bad behavior, that behavior will only continue.” The regime’s cycle of hostage taking needs to come to an end. As such, denying money for hostages is the best way forward. For the Biden administration, giving money to a hostage-taking regime like Iran looks bad as well. We all remember the “pallets of cash” ($400 million) the Obama administration sent to Iran in 2016 on the day four American hostages were released. Afterward, however, Iran abducted Xiyue Wang and others, eventually including me.

Furthermore, any money and assets under discussion should go to the victims of Iran’s terrorism and hostage-taking enterprise. We deserve that money—not Iran. Where are our voices and compensation for what Iran has done to us? For far too long, the victims of Iran’s terrorism and hostage taking have been denied due compensation and justice as a result of past administrations’ zeal to make a deal with the Iranian regime. (This was especially true of the Obama administration.) It seems that now the Biden administration is following that same pattern and remaining deaf to the voices of the victims. Do not let Iran off the hook without being held accountable for what it did to me and others.

Regarding the current hostages, they are innocent and deserve to be released. I know they are suffering. When I was imprisoned in Iran, I made it clear to the Swiss ambassador to let the Trump administration know not to offer any money in exchange for my release. I even had objections to releasing any prisoners in exchange for me as well, though I reluctantly acquiesced to give President Trump and his team some cards to play. I was willing to stand on principle and not allow myself to be used as a bargaining chip for monetary gain for Tehran. I knew the consequences of that action. The path forward must be one that uses only diplomatic pressure and non-monetary means to secure the release of hostages. That will preserve the principles Americans hold dear, while also ensuring that Iran and other rogue states bent on hostage taking know there is no profit accompanying this enterprise.

Michael White is a veteran of the United States Navy. He was held captive in Iran for 683 days and was released on June 4, 2020. 

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