Biden takes political risk with Iran prisoner swap
WASHINGTON, Sept 18, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - US President Joe Biden hailed a
prisoner swap with Iran as cause for celebration Monday, but Republican
criticism makes the deal politically risky ahead of the 2024 election.
The White House has defended the exchange, in which five "innocent
Americans" flew out of Iran following the release of $6 billion in frozen
Iranian funds. Five Iranians held in the US were also freed.
Biden said he would "continue to impose costs" on arch-foe Iran for its
"provocative" actions and announced fresh sanctions against former Iranian
president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the intelligence ministry.
"As we celebrate the return of these Americans, we also remember those who
did not return," Biden said in a statement.
The White House meanwhile insisted that the "difficult" decision did not
involve any US softening on Tehran, which Washington accuses of being the
world's leading sponsor of terrorism.
"Sometimes in diplomacy you get what you can get," National Security
Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN as the five Americans were flying home
"I don't think we should look at this as some kind of confidence-building
measure to a better relationship with Iran."
Kirby had last week denied that the release of the $6 billion was not a
"ransom" and said that Iran was only allowed to use the money for food or
A senior US administration official told reporters on Sunday they wanted to
"dispel a few myths" about the deal.
"These are not taxpayer dollars. This is not a payment of any kind," the
official said on condition of anonymity.
- 'Hostage swap' -
But Republicans are already lashing out at Biden over the deal, as they eye
unseating the Democrat in next year's presidential election.
"This is a hostage swap for $6 billion," Michael McCaul, Republican chair
of the House Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox Business.
"And guess where it's going to go? It's going to go into terror proxy
Criticism of the Iran deal comes at a tough time politically for Biden, who
faces a Republican-led impeachment inquiry over his son Hunter's business
affairs, while Hunter Biden has also been charged with a federal firearms
Add a looming government shutdown and an autoworker strike that could
damage the fragile economic gains of "Bidenomics," and Republicans have plenty
Contenders for the Republican primary nomination lined up to criticize the
Iran deal when it first emerged last week on the anniversary of the 9/11
terrorist attacks on the United States.
Donald Trump, the likely Republican candidate next year, branded Biden an
"He had the audacity to announce this terrible deal today, September 11th,"
Trump, who tore up a nuclear deal with Iran while in office, wrote on social
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney warned that the deal
could lead to more "kidnappings."
"The idea of basically paying to release, in this effect, a hostage is a
terrible idea, the Utah senator said.
Iranian exile groups have given mixed reactions, with some criticizing the
swap but others praising it.
And one person in particular thanking Biden: freed detainee Siamak Namazi.
"My heartfelt gratitude goes to President Biden and his administration,
which had to make some incredibly difficult decisions," Namazi said in a