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Joe Buccino
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Blood money: Biden’s Iran deal endangers the Middle East

The $6 billion Tehran received will most likely be used to support its nuclear pursuits and fund acts of terrorism
From left, Emad Sharghi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak Namazi, former prisoners in Iran, walk out of a Qatar Airways flight that brought them out of Tehran and to Doha, Qatar, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. Five prisoners sought by the US in a swap with Iran were freed Monday and headed home as part of a deal that saw nearly $6 billion in Iranian assets unfrozen. (AP Photo/Lujain Jo)
From left, Emad Sharghi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak Namazi, former prisoners in Iran, walk out of a Qatar Airways flight that brought them out of Tehran and to Doha, Qatar, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. Five prisoners sought by the US in a swap with Iran were freed Monday and headed home as part of a deal that saw nearly $6 billion in Iranian assets unfrozen. (AP Photo/Lujain Jo)

The US and Iran exchanged prisoners Monday after some $6 billion once frozen in South Korea reached Qatar for release to the Iranian regime. While the return of Americans from captivity is always welcome, the pact brokered by the Biden administration comes with potentially catastrophic consequences for the Middle East. The dangers far outweigh the benefits, as there is a high likelihood that the funds distributed to Tehran will support nefarious activities that threaten regional stability and security.

Negotiating the release of hostages is always a complex endeavor involving compromises with bad people. Such agreements always introduce risk. However, what set this agreement apart was the inclusion of the ransom. Despite assurances from the administration that the billions are earmarked exclusively for humanitarian purposes like food and medicine, the sanctions waiver releasing the funds essentially grants Iran carte blanche for its nuclear pursuits, acts of terrorism, and support to proxy conflicts.

Now that the funds are disbursed, nothing can prevent the Iranian regime from diverting billions to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and military hospitals, or worse, selling it on the black markets of Iraq or Afghanistan for cold, hard cash. Last week, Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi told NBC News that Tehran will spend the released funds ‘wherever we need it.’ This not only compromises the intended purpose of the funds but also empowers groups with a track record of undermining regional stability and supporting terrorism.

The Biden Administration’s approach to negotiations with Tehran has been consistently marked with a sense of desperation. The eagerness to engage diplomatically with the Islamic Republic, exemplified by the hastened revival of the ill-fated nuclear deal, sends a message to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq about the White House’s desire to appease Iran. At the very least, Secretary of State Tony Blinken should have demanded a forthright accounting of the case of Robert Levinson, the retired FBI agent who was kidnapped in Iran back in 2007. Levinson is widely believed to have died in Iranian custody, but his body remains unrecovered.

The timing here was off as well. Iran is weeks away from producing sufficient fissile material to produce a nuclear bomb, a looming peril that would likely set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and introduce grave risk to American interests in the region.

Further, the release of funds came two days after the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of authorities for violating the country’s mandatory hijab rules. As the regime is once again cracking down on protests just as it prepares to receive an influx of cash from DC. The deal sends a regrettable message not only to protestors. President Biden, who vowed to make Saudi Arabia a pariah state due to the kingdom’s human rights record, should have held the line here based on Tehran’s atrocious human rights record.

This juxtaposition raises uncomfortable questions about the consistency of American foreign policy in the pursuit of justice and human rights. Giving Raisi diplomatic credence on an international stage right now was a mistake. The move undermines the principles of justice, human rights, and the rule of law that should be at the forefront of any diplomatic endeavor. By engaging in dialogue with Raisi, we legitimized a regime that has systematically violated the most basic rights of its citizens.

Raisi’s past is stained with blood; he stands accused of overseeing some of the most heinous crimes against humanity in modern history. Last year, a Swedish court found a prison official guilty of war crimes, implicating Raisi in a policy of murdering prisoners of conscience, resulting in thousands of executions. This verdict mirrors an earlier prosecution in Germany, where Iran’s top leaders were held responsible for the state-sponsored assassination of regime opponents.

While the desire to bring American prisoners home was a noble one, the means by which the Biden administration pursued this goal were deeply flawed. The risk of diverting $6 billion into the wrong hands and the legitimization of a leader with a blood-stained past should have been deemed too great to ignore. We must stand united against the Iranian regime’s oppressive policies and its support for groups that seek to undermine global security.

About the Author
US Army Colonel (retired) Joe Buccino served as the communications director for US Central Command until July of 2023. He is the CEO of Joe Buccino Consulting, LLC, and the author of the forthcoming book, "Burn the Village to Save It," about the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive.