In showdown with Iran, Biden blinks first

Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

If any of you happen to stop by the State Department this week, do us a favor and try to find out what the heck is going on with our foreign policy these days. Yesterday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a rather unexpected announcement. It seems that we have agreed to waive certain sanctions on Iran. Not all of them, of course, but it’s still a significant development. We’re going to free up frozen Iranian funds from a couple of accounts for debts that they are owed by Japan and South Korea for previous oil sales. In addition to that, there is reportedly additional sanctions relief on the table if we work out a plan to get Iran back to the table to discuss the nuclear deal. The optics of this were made even worse by the fact that the relief was announced on the same day that we learned that Iranians had been plotting to kidnap an American journalist in New York City. (Free Beacon)

The State Department informed Congress late Tuesday that it would waive sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade so that the country can access frozen funds from South Korea and Japan, the same day the Department of Justice announced charges on an Iranian spy network that sought to kidnap an American.

The waiver, signed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, allows the “transfer of Iranian funds in restricted accounts to exporters in Japan and the Republic of Korea,” according to a notification sent to Congress by the State Department. The waiver allows Iranian money that had been frozen as a result of American sanctions to be freed up without violating the law. “Allowing these funds to be used to repay exporters in these jurisdictions will make those entities whole with respect to the goods and services they exported to Iran, address a recurring irritant in important bilateral relationships, and decrease Iran’s foreign reserves,” the waiver states.

Isn’t this precisely what we said we weren’t going to do? Blinken appears to be trying to make the argument that this isn’t really sanctions relief because the money was already owed to Iran from their illicit oil sales. But that’s just doublespeak because the end result is the same. Richard Goldberg, a member of Trump’s National Security Council specializing in the Iranian weapons program, summed it up correctly.

“There’s a reason we talk about accessible foreign exchange reserves versus inaccessible foreign exchange reserves. If you free up money that’s trapped in foreign accounts for Iran to pay off debts, you are bailing out the regime and rescuing the mullahs from a balance of payments crisis,” said Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “This is a bailout, plain and simple. And to announce it right as DOJ tells us Iran tried to kidnap an American journalist out of New York City—that’s a national outrage.”

That kidnapping plot is what Jim Geraghty called “Iran’s giant middle finger to the Biden administration.” Are we really going to pretend that a conspiratorial kidnapping plot right in the middle of Gotham would have been attempted without Iran’s Mullahs and the Republican Guard signing off on it? This is just incredible.

From the sound of things, those third-party talks with Iran regarding their nuclear program have really been moving forward. And the State Department spokesperson is making it sound as if there is plenty of sanctions relief on the way. And all of this is happening not only as Iran plots to kidnap Americans, but the day after Rouhani announced that they could be enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels at any time.

So are we just throwing in the towel and promising the moon to Iran in exchange for a dubious promise that they’ll stop doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing in the first place? This is pretty much the opposite of The Art of the Deal. We seem to be being taken for suckers at this point.