Dan Gilmore / January 20, 2016

Iran Embarrasses U.S. in Prisoner Swap

Obama finds out how he always does: watching the news.

In a twist of statecraft, the United States waited until the five Iranian-Americans held prisoner by Iran were safely on an airplane out of Iran before slapping sanctions against the country for test-firing ballistic missiles — sanctions that prevent 11 organizations and individuals associated with the tests from using U.S. banks. But it sure wasn’t the diplomatic victory Obama wants us to believe. Iran still gets its $150 billion in unfrozen money thanks to the nuclear deal. And the administration left a man behind: Former FBI agent Robert Levinson still remains in Iranian custody. Furthermore, the administration claims it learned about Levinson’s fate the same way Obama learns about so many other major news events: watching the news.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said, “Unfortunately, so many other people found out about it through press reports because the Iranians leaked the information early, too early for us to have made the phone calls and notifications that we wanted to make. Believe me, nobody is happy about the way that went down. That’s not the way that we wanted it to happen.” In the same way Iran humiliated Obama when it broadcasted the images of detained U.S. sailors when their boats drifted into Iranian waters last week, the country is trying to embarrass the United States by broadcasting news of Levinson so that the U.S. couldn’t notify Levinson’s family in a respectful way. The missile tests and failed swap of Levinson could be another sign that Iran’s hard-line leaders are marginalizing moderates. Iran will hold parliamentary elections soon, and of the 12,000 candidates, nearly two-thirds of the candidates, the majority of them moderate, were disqualified by Iran’s Guardian Council. Even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s grandson was disqualified because the candidate advocating for reform missed a test into his knowledge of Islamic law.

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