US can use Iran’s frozen assets as hostage release tool
The eyes of the world are now on Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. But continued US negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program and a potential return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also weigh heavily on the minds of many, and we are watching them closely.
For the families of Americans wrongfully detained by Iran, the overriding goal is to ensure the Biden administration does everything reasonably possible to remove their loved ones.
For decades, Iran has used the hostage-taking and wrongful detention of Americans and other foreign nationals to gain political clout – United States Embassy hostages held for 444 days from 1979 to the 2007 kidnapping of Robert Levinson, the longest-held American hostage, to those imprisoned in Iran today on false charges and false convictions.
It is not a nation’s foreign policy; this is the behavior of terrorists. It is time for the international community to show the Iranian regime once and for all that this practice will not be tolerated.
Published reports indicate that the United States may be on the verge of rejoining the JCPOA. There will be time to comment on the details of the nuclear deal if and when it is done, but now we must focus on getting every American home. There are ways to ensure that the Iranian regime removes our citizens and lawful permanent residents, while deterring it from doing so again along with other Americans and foreign nationals. If Iranians are in desperate need of economic aid, we need to hit them where it hurts to make that stop – in their wallets.
We know that Iranian officials are desperate seeking access to frozen funds abroad. But they shouldn’t get a dime as long as they continue their vile practice of taking political hostages. The frozen assets should be used to make Iran pay for this illegal behavior. There is precedent for the use of frozen assets of foreign governments to secure justice for victims of terrorism. Last month, President Biden announced he would release $7 billion in frozen Afghan assets in the United States and seek to divide the money between humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and a fund for specific victims of the September 11 whose judgments are pending as victims of terrorism.
We must do the same for all victims of Iranian hostage-taking.
According to some accounts, the United States controls at least $11 billion in frozen Iranian assets around the world. Before even considering allowing Iran access to frozen funds, some of those assets should go to the victims of Iran’s hostage-taking – a clear message to the Iranian regime that it is not only unacceptable to unjustly detain Americans for political purposes, but that there will be accountability for these outrageous illegal acts. Families whose loved ones have been illegally detained by Iran deserve justice. This money should go directly to families to settle compensatory and punitive damages awarded by US courts, as well as to replenish the already established US fund for victims of state-sponsored terrorism. Iran is, and continues to be, the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Its assets should compensate American victims.
Such a policy would benefit our government, the hostages and their families. It would bring Americans home, ensure justice is done, and ensure that deterring Iran from taking hostages becomes a central part of American policy.
The Iranian regime has repeatedly demonstrated that it only responds to pressure. It is not enough to obtain the release of our fellow citizens. We must adopt policies that deter Iran from continuing to capture Americans and other foreign nationals.
Former hostages, families of hostages and wrongfully detained Americans have experienced unimaginable suffering. Some have won judgments against Iran in US courts, but are continually forced to find and fight for the assets needed to pay those judgments, while being constantly reminded of the pain those judgments represent. We want to make sure that no other family ever experiences the despair of having a loved one wrongfully detained overseas.
Most important: Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi must return home before Iran can enjoy the economic benefits of any international agreement; the Levinson family needs the Iranians, once and for all, to account for what happened to Bob Levinson; and all the families who have fallen victim to Iran’s barbaric hostage-taking practices need some semblance of closure.
Let’s use this moment – now – to close a chapter on their pain so they can move on with a modicum of justice.
U.S. Representative Ted Deutch represents Florida’s 22nd congressional district. Sarah (Levinson) Moriarty is the daughter of Bob Levinson, the longest-held American hostage.
This story was originally published April 7, 2022 3:49 p.m.