October 4, 2022 | Flash Brief

Release of Hostages in Iran May Be Linked to U.S. Sanctions Relief

October 4, 2022 | Flash Brief

Release of Hostages in Iran May Be Linked to U.S. Sanctions Relief

Latest Developments

Iranian state media reports have linked Tehran’s one-week furlough of an American hostage on Saturday to a potentially forthcoming U.S. sanctions waiver authorizing the transfer to Iran of $7 billion. These funds are currently frozen in South Korea. While the National Security Council was quick to deny such a linkage, the Biden administration did not confirm or deny whether it would authorize the release of the $7 billion — a step previously reported as part of the sequencing of a new nuclear deal. In addition to its release of the hostage, Iranian-American Siamak Namazi, Tehran allowed his ailing father, Iranian-American Baquer Namazi, to leave the country. Iran imprisoned the elder Namazi from 2016 to 2018 and has since barred him from exiting Iran.

Expert Analysis

“As the people of Iran continue to take to the streets to defend women’s rights and protest one of the most brutally oppressive regimes on earth, the Biden administration should make clear whether it intends to pump $7 billion into the coffers of the regime. For the defense of American national security and preservation of our most basic values, the administration should withdraw all offers of sanctions relief.”
Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

U.S. and South Korea Coordinating on Iran Deal, Hostages

Following a meeting in September between U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley and South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister, Malley tweeted, “We thank the Republic of Korea for their close partnership, including their efforts to help ensure the return of our wrongfully detained citizens in Iran and to reach a deal on JCPOA.” Malley’s tweet linked the potential release of $7 billion held in South Korea to the broader nuclear deal negotiations. In late August, leaked details of the nuclear agreement revealed that the release of $7 billion from South Korea would be the first step taken in a new nuclear deal’s sequencing.

Evasion of Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act

A presidential national security waiver would likely be necessary to facilitate the transfer of funds from South Korea to Iran. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), however, explicitly restricts the president’s ability to waive statutory sanctions as part of a nuclear agreement with Iran — giving Congress 30 days to review and potentially reject the deal.

The Biden administration thus finds itself in a legal conundrum: On the one hand, linking the $7 billion to a nuclear deal would prohibit any sanctions waiver prior to congressional review of the full deal pursuant to INARA. On the other hand, linking the $7 billion to the release of an American hostage would be an admission the administration is paying an enormous ransom for hostages.

A Dangerous Precedent of Paying for Hostages

Even if the $7 billion release of funds to Iran were truly disconnected from the nuclear deal, policymakers should object to paying for the release of U.S. hostages. In 2015, the Obama administration negotiated a similar scheme alongside the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, sending Iran $400 million — the first installment of a $1.7 billion payment — at the same time Tehran released four Americans. The result was more hostages taken by Iran. If $1.7 billion encouraged the regime to take more hostages, $7 billion will guarantee much more hostage-taking to come.

Related Analysis

Iran Releases a U.S. Resident Taken Hostage,” by Tzvi Kahn

Tehran Sentences U.S. Hostage to 10 Years in Prison,” by Tzvi Kahn

Iran’s Hostages-for-Cash Scheme Continues – How Should the West Respond?” by Saeed Ghasseminejad and Annie Fixler


Iran Iran Human Rights Iran Nuclear