A US citizen released in a complex swap deal after being imprisoned for nearly eight years in Iran has urged the Biden administration to launch a “revolutionary global endeavor” to end the longstanding practice of Islamic regime consisting of taking foreign nationals hostage.
Siamak Namazi, 51, was one of five U.S. citizens released Monday under a deal that saw five Iranians accused in the U.S. pardoned and Iran given access to $6 billion in previously frozen oil revenues.
The release of the prisoners was welcomed by President Joe Biden, who immediately announced new sanctions against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s powerful intelligence ministry, over the still undetermined fate of Robert Levinson, an FBI agent retired who disappeared after visiting an offshore island. The southern coast of Iran in 2007.
Biden also called on Americans — including those with dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship — to avoid traveling to Iran, which has been at odds with Washington since 52 U.S. embassy employees were held hostage in Tehran for 444 days after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
However, Namazi – himself a dual national and the longest serving of the five detainees after being imprisoned for 2,898 days, most of them in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison – called in a statement for a radically different approach to deter state-sponsored hostage-taking.
“Over the past 44 years, the Iranian regime has mastered the heinous game of caging innocent Americans and other foreign nationals and trading in their freedom,” he said after boarding the plane. from Tehran to Doha, calling Evin Prison a “dystopian hostage UN”. .
“We must urgently channel the pain of the victims of this wickedness into the kind of measures that would upend the cost-benefit calculations of Tehran’s dirty dealings. Because if we maintain this ignoble path of profit without risk and without toll, this venal regime will continue to walk there. Again and again.
“Only if the free world finally agrees to collectively impose draconian consequences on those who use human lives as mere bargaining chips will the Iranian regime and its ilk be forced to make different choices. Unfortunately, between now and then, we can expect more Americans and others to become victims of state hostage situations.
Namazi’s comments will likely be echoed by Republicans who say Iran will likely use the unfrozen $6 billion to fund terrorist activities.
U.S. officials insisted the money would be limited to “humanitarian transactions” involving food, medicine and medical supplies, as well as agricultural products.
“This is not a payment of any kind,” a senior administration official said in a statement. “No funds enter Iran and no funds are paid to Iranian companies or entities. Basically, these are Iranian funds – payments made by South Korea to Iran for oil purchases years ago, including under the last administration – moving from a restricted account in Korea to another restricted account in Qatar.
The funds were frozen in 2019 following the Trump administration’s tightening of sanctions as part of its “maximum pressure” policy on Tehran. They related to oil purchased from Iran by South Korea the previous year as part of a sanctions relief program.
Biden, meanwhile, sought to shift the focus back to Iran by bringing up the fate of Levinson, whose fate has been the subject of speculation since his disappearance in 2007, during Ahmadinejad’s turbulent presidency. His family announced he was presumed dead in March 2020, after concluding, on the advice of U.S. officials, that he had died while in Iranian custody.
Iranian officials have never admitted to detaining Levinson, while U.S. officials believe he was detained and interrogated by the country’s intelligence services as a possible bargaining chip.
A retired FBI officer, he initially reportedly visited Kish – an island popular with tourists and does not require a visa for entry – as part of an independent investigation into illicit cigarette smuggling in March 2007.
Interviewed by the late Charlie Rose on CBS five years later, Ahmadinejad did not deny that Levinson was being detained and suggested that there had been discussions about a prisoner exchange.
An Associated Press investigation published in 2013 found that Levinson was working for the CIA on an unauthorized intelligence-gathering operation at the time of his disappearance.
Biden declared the hostage-taking of US citizens a “national emergency” in an executive order issued in July last year.