- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We hope President Obama hasn’t agreed to a quid pro quo to secure the release of hostages in Iran, but the evidence doesn’t look good.

On July 9, the United States released five members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps captured in Irbil, Iraq, in January 2007. The five were suspected of coordinating Iranian financial and materiel support for insurgents in Iraq, part of the ongoing shadow war being prosecuted against the United States by Tehran that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Americans.

The State Department maintains that the Iranians were released at the request of the Iraqi government, but some reports suggest the move was part of a quid pro quo deal for U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi, who was arrested in Tehran in February and released on May 11.

We had feared such a deal was in the works. On April 22, we noted in these pages that “the Iranian government is maneuvering to trade Ms. Saberi’s freedom for that of five Revolutionary Guards captured by U.S. forces while training insurgents in Iraq.”

The same day that Iran’s chief judge, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, ordered a “quick and fair” appeal for Ms. Saberi, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz and called for the immediate release of the “Irbil Five.” This was a clear diplomatic signal of a potential deal.

There is a whiff of “arms for hostages” in the air. It would be a mistake to reprise that failed attempt by the Reagan administration to curry favor with Iran in the mid-1980s by sending weapons in hopes Tehran would release U.S. hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon.

The opening did not improve U.S.-Iranian relations, and President Reagan later admitted it was a mistake. In 1987, E.J. Dionne, writing in the New York Times, quoted then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. as saying that Mr. Reagan had been “blinded by the illusion” that there was “an easy solution” to the hostage crisis and had been misled “by people who had no competence in the area of foreign policy.” Ironically, Iran expert Michael Ledeen reports that the deal for the release of the Irbil Five was coordinated through Vice President Biden’s office.

There are many good reasons not to make trades for hostages, most important because it encourages more hostage-taking. Tehran has tried this tactic before. In May 2007, Iranian security forces seized four Iranian-Americans in a move believed to be intended to create pressure for the release of the Irbil Five. When the Bush administration did not rise to the bait, the four were released. The Obama administration seems to be willing to play this game.

On June 24, the United States released Laith al-Khazali, a leader of the Iranian-backed Asaib al-Haq terror network, reportedly to pave the way for the release of British hostages held by insurgents since 2007, after the group killed two of the five in their custody. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, and Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, sent a letter to the White House questioning Mr. Khazali’s release and its supposed link to the British hostages.

New reports of a quid pro quo for Ms. Saberi suggest that these types of deals may be part of a pattern. The United States is holding hundreds of other Iran-linked terrorists, and if they also start going free, there may well be cause for an investigation into whether the United States is engaged in backroom bargaining with the Islamic Republic.

The Obama administration should not attempt to appease Tehran by releasing its agents who have worked tirelessly to kill Americans in Iraq. It betrays the trust of the families of the hundreds of American men and women slain by Iranian arms.

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