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June 27 2023

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The Biden Administration’s Reckless Re-engagement with Iran

Andrew Ghalili

SENIOR POLICY ANALYST

Originally published in National Review.

It is often lamented in Washington that protests in Iran happen all the time but eventually dissipate and disappoint. Those wondering why this happens might look toward the White House. At a time when the Islamic Republic is on the back foot against the Iranian people, the administration of President Joe Biden is about to strengthen it by releasing a third of Iran’s state budget in cash — violating every principle it claims to stand for. This prospective agreement exposes all the talk about support for democracy, support for Ukraine, and friendship with Israel as baloney.

The agreement would trade cash for hostages and a uranium-enrichment freeze. As a gesture of goodwill, under the guise of humanitarian assistance, the administration has already released to Iran $2.67 billion in frozen assets that had been held in Iraq. The prospective deal, reportedly, will release up to an additional $24 billion in exchange for the Islamic Republic’s freeing three Iranian-American hostages and pausing its accumulation of 60 percent enriched uranium.

Any kind of support for the Islamist regime helps prop it up at a time when its end seems to be in sight — which is the key reason that the regime is open to this deal. Its security forces, including the Islamic Revolution’s Guardians Corps (IRGC; usually, and imprecisely, translated as “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”), are in disarray. The signs of discontent among the rank and file have been there for some time, but a leaked memorandum of a conversation among the senior leaders of the guards and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei confirmed these suspicions. Reading through the memorandum, one can be excused for believing that it is an honest assessment of the czar’s army in 1916. Commanders, one after another, complain about rampant poverty within their units. Speaking last, Khamenei tells them to stand strong, and that faith and financial accommodations would take care of those problems. Whether “faith” will help here is uncertain, but accommodations appear imminent.

Any new agreement with Iran would also come at a propitious time for Iran’s relations with one of its chief allies. The U.N. embargo on Iran’s exports of missiles will expire in October. Iran needs money, and an embattled Vladimir Putin needs missiles. It is no coincidence that the regime showcased its new hypersonic missile in anticipation of the embargo’s expiration. Whether the United States can trigger a snapback of U.N. sanctions remains disputed over its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (a.k.a. the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), but the administration has refused to even consider this option — in fact, it withdrew the previous administration’s claim to trigger sanctions in 2021 — or ask a European ally, who wouldn’t face any legal hurdles, to trigger them. It is already known that Iran is providing drone weaponry to Russia in its war on Ukraine. So now, if you see Iranian missiles killing Ukrainian children, you can in part thank Biden’s renewed engagement with the Islamic Republic.

However much the president talks about his commitment to allies and friends, that commitment seems questionable in the Middle East. Granting Iran access to $27 billion will not increase the welfare of the average Iranian, despite the Department of State’s assurances. These funds will instead go into the deep pockets of the IRGC, further enabling it to inflict terror on the Iranian people and Iran’s neighbors, to violate human rights, and to repress a democratic movement. The result will be more Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad rockets pouring on Israeli citizens, more proxies of Iran undermining the fragile democracies of Iraq and Lebanon — or whatever remains of them — and more Houthi missiles targeting America’s Arab partners.

This cash will not stop Iran’s attacks on U.S. troops in the Middle East. It will increase them. Because of the classified intelligence that Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira leaked on the instant-messaging platform Discord, we know that Iran was planning to increase its attacks against U.S. forces in the near future. Reportedly, the administration has agreed to a grace period. But the Islamic Republic considers the United States a permanent enemy. Therefore, even if this deal goes through and the adversary holds to its word by temporarily pausing its attacks, expect Americans to come back home in body bags eventually as a result of Iranian aggression, enabled by Biden’s cash release.

Possibly more cynical than the policy is its implementation. There will be no agreement for the two sides to sign — only a mutual understanding — because the administration hopes to avoid subjecting it to congressional approval under the Iranian Nuclear Agreement Review Act.
The administration is deceitfully marketing this non-agreement as a “freeze-for-freeze” plan, a relic from a 2008 proposal by the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — and the EU, whereby the Security Council would freeze adding sanctions, while Iran would freeze uranium enrichment at 3.5 percent. This time, the United States would release nearly $24 billion of Iran’s frozen assets in cash, while Iran would agree to freeze enrichment at 60 percent — basically the same as 2008.

The new agreement is a freeze-for-bribe. The Islamic Republic is a menace to the world and an adversary of democracy. The Biden administration needn’t take a step so drastic as intervention to combat it. But it is puzzling that the administration seeks to negotiate with, legitimize, and even financially reward the very government that Iran’s people now rage against.

If the president, the secretary of state, and the national-security adviser believe that putting Americans’ lives in danger, killing Iranian freedom in the womb, undermining the fragile democracies of Iraq and Lebanon, enabling more Ukrainian deaths, and jeopardizing Israeli and Arab security are all worth it to get Iran not to enrich uranium beyond 60 percent, then they should say it out loud — and find a better talking point than “democracy vs. autocracy” for their reelection campaign. To paraphrase a great American, there will come a day when the Islamic Republic is gone, but your dishonor will remain.

Shay Khatiri, an immigrant from Iran currently seeking political asylum in the United States, is a fellow at the Yorktown Institute.

Andrew Ghalili is a senior policy analyst at the National Union for Democracy in Iran.