August 23, 2011 | The Corner, National Review Online

American Hikers Sentenced in Iran

You didn’t really think the Iranian regime was going to release the American hiker hostages, did you? We were evidently unwilling to pay the regime’s ransom demands (the only time hostages are released from Iran is when they are ransomed out, or when the regime fears something terrible is about to happen. The female hiker was released because the Iranians feared she might die in custody, for example).

You can be sure there were the usual back-channel negotiations, perhaps using several channels. It would be useful to know who the negotiators were, and to whom they reported. It would also be useful to know whether hostages have been discussed in the so-called “Track 2” talks between a group of Americans and Europeans (headed by former ambassador Frank Wisner) and some high-ranking Iranian officials. The administration has privately confirmed that the talks have taken place, but provides no details, and Ambassador Wisner has steadfastly refused to discuss the matter with journalists.

Knowledge about these talks would help us understand the evolution of the administration’s thinking about Iran. Did Obama finally conclude that it was hopeless to believe there could be a grand bargain with Tehran? I know there were talks in late January in Europe, at which time further meetings were scheduled for June. Did they take place?

Meanwhile, the two remaining hikers just passed the two-year mark of their captivity. Both the London Telegraph and the U.S. Nation have concluded that they were kidnapped on the Iraqi side of the border by Iranian forces, and it’s hard to believe they were spying on Iran (ironically, their views were very politically correct; both were opposed to America’s pro-Israel policies and were not at all critical of the Iranian regime. Before going to Iraq, they spent some time in Bashar Assad’s Syria).

It’s pointless to ask for clemency. They are pawns in Iran’s ongoing war against the United States, and their own political convictions carry no weight with the mullahs.

It reminds me of the Rev. Benjamin Weir, an American hostage held in Beirut by Hezbollah in the mid-1980s. He was released after the Reagan administration agreed to sell Iran some anti-tank missiles. Like the hikers, he was an outspoken critic of American Middle East policy, and upon his return to freedom he held a press conference in the National Cathedral at which he denounced Reagan and all the rest of us who had obtained his release.

That’s how it works.

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