As more details of that payment emerged, lawmakers spoke with increasing conviction about the “ransom payment” violating long-established US policy of not paying for hostages. Much of this commentary warned that the West could now expect Tehran to be emboldened in taking additional hostages, as it has arguably done in the form of the Namazis, the recent San Diego State College graduate Robin Shahini, the Iranian-British mother and charitable program coordinator Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and others.
On Wednesday, a report by the Washington Free Beacon lent credence to those concerns, noting that a number of Iranian officials had floated the idea of the American prisoners being exchanged for large sums of money. Iranian news outlets with close ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have reportedly said that the US is expected to offer “many billions of dollars” for the release of Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father.
Regardless of such commentary by Iranian hardliners, the Obama administration continues to maintain that it has never paid ransom for American hostages, although it now acknowledges that the 400 million dollar cash delivery was used as leverage to make sure of the release of four Americans once this had been separately negotiated.
For many, the difference is trivial, and the White House’s claim was subjected to serious criticism on Thursday in the form of an editorial published at Hot Air. The article argued that it does not matter what the Obama administration thinks of the payment; all that matters is how it was received by Iran. And there had been previous reports of quotations from Iranian political and military officials saying that the money had been offered in exchange for the release of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and others.
The IRGC’s comment about “many billions of dollars” underscores this perception and also gives strong evidence in favor of US congressmen’s belief that the perception of ransom would have an adverse effect on the cases of other Americans detained in the Islamic Republic.
But Iran News Update has pointed out in previous reports that there are other incentives for Iranian authorities to target Western nationals. Certainly, such arrests serve as part of the regime’s crackdown on potential sources of dissent or challenges to the country’s enforced, hardline Islamic identity. But more than that, and particularly in the case of arrests of businessmen like Siamak Namazi, this trend serves to discourage Western investors from challenging the IRGC’s control over the Iranian economy.
This latter issue was also mentioned by Hot Air, which indicated that the expectation of ransom money provides the IRGC and its affiliates with reason to hope that they can make money off of the West while simultaneously keeping Western economic and cultural influences at bay.