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Team Biden Just Made the Worst Deal Ever with Iran

There is zero chance Biden's ransom money is going to benefit the Iranian people.

Distinguished Fellow
An Iranian long-range Ghadr missile displaying "Down with Israel" in Hebrew is pictured at a defence exhibition in city of Isfahan, Iran, on February 8, 2023. (Morteza Salehi/Tasnim News/AFP via Getty Images)
An Iranian long-range Ghadr missile displaying "Down with Israel" in Hebrew is pictured at a defence exhibition in city of Isfahan, Iran, on February 8, 2023. (Morteza Salehi/Tasnim News/AFP via Getty Images)

On the 22nd anniversary of the worst terror attacks in America’s history, the Biden Administration notified Congress that it had just released $6 billion of frozen assets to Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, and would release five Iranians detained in the U.S. in exchange for five American hostages.  We should all be happy for the families of these five Americans and be thankful that they are finally receiving good news about their loved ones – as Secretary of State, nothing was more rewarding than bringing home Americans held hostage in foreign countries

While our goal should always be to bring every American home, we must also negotiate to ensure we don’t incentivize the taking of hostages in the future. But this is the worst deal ever.  Paying for Americans wrongly detained by Iran will only make Americans less safe in the long run and provides more funding for the brutal Iranian regime.  These were lessons we learned long ago, but that Joe Biden refuses to learn.    

When Team Biden first announced it was working on this swap last month, it took great pains to emphasize that Iran could only use this vast sum of money for "humanitarian" purposes, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated this message in his letter to Congress this week.  

Let’s be clear: There is zero chance this money is going to benefit the Iranian people.  None.  Even Team Biden knows this because money is fungible.  Even if every cent is used for "good" purposes to placate the population, the regime just got six billion dollars to spread terror to America, Israel, and our partners and allies. 

But this is a page out of the Obama Administration’s playbook – Obama officials made similar arguments when they funneled massive amounts of taxpayer dollars to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA).  Those taxpayer dollars did little more than support the rise of Hamas in Gaza and, eventually, the West Bank.  This case was made again when President Obama, without Senate approval, committed America to the original Iran deal in 2015, sending pallets of American cash to the Ayatollah in an exchange involving the release of American hostages. Now that familiar faces from the Obama JV team have returned in the Biden Administration, Tehran is taking advantage of their weakness again. 

History has shown that rewarding terrorist regimes is foolish and results in bad outcomes for Americans. That’s why when I was Secretary of State, we cut off funding to the UNWRA and put a historic sanctions program in place to cripple the Iranian regime.  We were able to do this and still bring home two American hostages, Xiyue Wang and Michael White, without sending Iran a dime. 

Instead of building on this approach, the Biden Administration made a $6 billion ransom payment.  This will greatly increase Iran’s ability to fund future acts of terror and encourage the taking of more hostages.  By paying $6 billion to get back five Americans, the Iranian regime knows that American hostages can now be held for billions in ransom, and so do the rest of our adversaries.  After Biden decided to give Victor Bout – the "Merchant of Death" – back to Putin to bring Britney Griner home, I said that the Administration had turned the American passport into a bullseye.  I fear that bullseye just grew even bigger.

This deal looks even worse considering Iran’s recent activity.  In July, the Iranian Navy attempted to seize two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.  The Iranian regime has supplied Vladimir Putin with drones that have been used to kill both Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.  The regime has continued to grow its stockpile of enriched uranium throughout Biden’s tenure, making the minor pause in this effort around the hostage deal insignificant.  And the regime continues its brutal crackdown on protesters as the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s murder approaches.  By making a bad deal, the Biden Administration is rewarding Iran’s malign behavior when it should be punishing it with maximum pressure.

The Obama and now Biden administrations maintain that rewarding the regime will result in regime change. That was their argument for the terrible 2015 Iran deal and remains their motivation today. Even Senator Chuck Schumer knew this logic was flawed and voted against the deal in 2015, saying, "I believe Iran will not change." He was right then and remains correct: Iran has not changed. And further rewarding them will not bring change in the future for the better.  

In the Trump Administration, we understood that the goal of hostage negotiations is not simply to bring Americans home, no matter the cost; it is also to protect Americans in the future.  For this reason, our leaders should always be crystal clear about the consequences of holding an American hostage, even when negotiating to bring them home.  This was the model we followed in the Trump Administration: When Pastor Andrew Brunson was being held in Turkey, for instance, we introduced tariffs and sanctions until the Turkish government relented and allowed him to come home.  

The Biden Administration has done the opposite. It has rewarded the Iranian regime for holding Americans hostage and has sent a message to our enemies that there is real profit in going after American citizens. And it has rewarded and helped further entrench a brutal regime that hates our ally Israel and has no regard for human life.  The Biden administration should have negotiated a better deal. Instead, it paid a ransom and made the worst deal ever.

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