FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Kayvon Afshari
The American Iranian Council welcomes the announcement of a pending prisoner swap between the United States and Iran, set to free detained Iranian-Americans Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Nosratollah Khosavi-Roodsari in exchange for seven Iranians being held by the US on sanctions violations. Fars News reported that the Iranians due to be released include Nader Modanlo, Bahram Mechanic, Khosro Afghahi, Arash Ghahreman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golastaneh, and Ali Sabonchi. While these long detainments should not have occurred in the first place, the reciprocal pardons are a significant step and a validation of diplomacy’s efficacy. There are also conflicting reports as to whether Iranian-American Siamak Namazi is to be released as part of the swap, released separately from the swap, or not set to be released. If he is not due to be released, the AIC is calling for his release to be included with the others.
Consistent with the AIC’s mission over the past 25 years, the key takeaway from this developing story is that engagement, negotiations, and diplomacy are more fruitful than threats, coercion, and pressure. Sadly, both sides have often used coercive pressure tactics over the past 37 years, which have produced a downward spiral of hostile relations. As a result of the fundamental shift under President Obama’s second term, a new bilateral relationship began to crystallize, one that sought to achieve stated aims through negotiations.
"Indeed, the nuclear negotiations, despite all of their challenges and imperfections, set a precedent whereby direct talks produced a tenable agreement that both sides could adopt and implement," AIC President Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi said. "More importantly, they forever broke the long-standing taboo against direct talks with officials from other side."
Those many late nights in European cities also produced rapport and a meaningful working relationship between two men: Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Personal relationships and trust can go long way toward buttressing diplomatic efforts, evidenced by the swift resolution of the recent naval incident. The key challenge now facing the Iranians and the Americans is how to use the momentum that has been built through the nuclear negotiations in order to pivot toward the broader relationship. Establishing formal diplomatic ties and normalizing the relationship, which the AIC has consistently and loudly pushed for since 1990, would ensure that crises are rare and that when they do occur, they are resolved as swiftly as possible. The Council has published a White Paper outlining the steps to normalize the relationship.
In the case of Jason Rezaian, who has spent over 500 days in prison, the absence of a formal American diplomatic presence in Tehran meant that there were no diplomats in the capital to push for his release. Indeed, if detractors of improved US-Iran relations and supporters of pressure tactics had their way, these crises would be exacerbated. Under their approach, the nuclear issue would likely still be a looming crisis and the two sides would remain on the brink of war; the naval incident probably would have metastasized into an international crisis; and this prisoner swap would almost certainly not be taking place.
Indeed, the diplomatic approach that the AIC has promoted for decades has been validated. The two sides must continue seize this approach, ignore the rabble-rousing distractions of election-year politics both in Tehran and on the American campaign trail, and focus on the ultimate goal of a broader rapprochement between the United States and Iran.
The American Iranian Counci