Earlier this month we learned that some of President Joe Biden’s attempts at backroom diplomacy with Iran were rebuffed, with the Iranians essentially telling the White House that we would need to “go first.” What they wanted was the lifting of at least some of the sanctions on them before they would consider any direct negotiations with the United States over their nuclear program. This weekend saw some news bubbling up in Arabic outlets suggesting that the Biden administration may have taken that request to heart. Our colleague Nick Arama at RedState dug up some chatter from Iranian sources suggesting that Biden had unfrozen some of the billions of dollars of Iranian assets currently locked up in the Trade Bank of Iraq and that some “transactions” had already taken place. If so, this would be a major shift in policy without any notification to the public.
An Iranian trade official said Friday the US green-lit the release of Iranian funds that have been frozen in Iraq due to US sanctions.
Citing Iraqi sources, Hamid Hosseini, board member of the Iran-Iraq Joint Chamber of Commerce, said Washington has approved the release of frozen Iranian assets at the Trade Bank of Iraq.
“Several transactions have [already] been made,” Hosseini wrote on Twitter, without mentioning the value of the assets.
Before we get too excited, we should note that these reports are coming from Iran International and Al Arabiya, not exactly the most reliable of sources. It’s still entirely possible that this is just some gossip being spread around by the Iranians to influence public opinion.
An Iranian trade official says the #US has approved the release of frozen Iranian assets at the Trade Bank of #Iraq, after sanctions imposed by Washington prevented #Iran from accessing tens of billions of its assets in foreign banks.
— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) March 7, 2021
While it seems unlikely, I wouldn’t write this off entirely. Afer all, some of our allies have already made similar moves. Last month, South Korea unfroze some of Iran’s assets, reportedly as a goodwill gesture toward North Korea.
But would Joe Biden really agree to do this on the down-low (as the kids like to say) without informing the press corps? After all, the smoke still hasn’t entirely cleared from the last missile attack that Iranian insurgents launched at our airbase in Iraq from Syria. Attacks by those militias were the primary reason Biden cited for launching the first military action of his presidency last month, annoying congressional leaders who were not informed of the decision in advance.
There’s been no confirmation from the White House that this unfreezing of Iran’s assets has taken place. But then again, I haven’t heard them denying it yet either. If this is happening and it’s an attempt at some sort of carrot and stick diplomacy, we’re sending some extremely mixed messages to our allies. We would essentially be lobbing missiles at Iran with one hand and tossing bundles of cash to them with the other. We need to either be holding Iran accountable and demanding they open up their nuclear facilities fully for IAEA inspectors or basically just admit that they’ve outfoxed us and let them start (or continue) enriching weapons-grade fuel.