Iranian-American hostages highlight fragile relationship

By Freedom Newspapers

Almost 30 years after the hostage crisis that has ever since soured relations between the United States and Iran, the United States is facing what could be viewed as a second hostage crisis — though smaller in scale and of a different character.

Four Iranian-Americans are imprisoned in Iran and charged with espionage. The whereabouts of a fifth American known to be in Iran is officially unknown.

We hope the U.S. government already is swiftly pursuing back-channel negotiations and other means to determine the facts and act on their behalf. In our view it is not necessarily the responsibility of the U.S. government to safeguard or rescue any and every American who runs afoul of authorities while traveling abroad, especially in a tyranny known to act arbitrarily. (And, in fact, if Americans violate the laws of another country while living or visiting there, there’s a good case that they should face the consequences).

However, it is unlikely (though not impossible) that these Iranian-Americans were spying on behalf of the United States, let alone Israel, as Iran has charged. Ali Shakeri is a member of the University of California Irvine’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding. Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center is known to favor dialogue rather than confrontation, while Kian Tajbaksh is a consultant for George Soros’ Open Society Institute, which has cooperated with the Iranian government. Parnaz Azima is a journalist.

Iran will undoubtedly note that the United States last year launched a $75 million project (cut to $56 million by Congress) to promote democracy (and perhaps regime change) in Iran, mostly through broadcasting and funding non-governmental organizations. We don’t know whether any of these four people were connected to projects funded by this money.

Sir Eldon Griffiths, former chairman of the World Affairs Council and author of the new book “Turbulent Iran,” said the Iranians may well try to connect the imprisonment of these Americans with the five Iranians now being held in Iraq by the U.S. or the Iraqi government.
The United States claims they are provocateurs, saboteurs or spies, while the Iranians claim they are diplomats. The Iranians want them back.

No easy answer is obvious. We hope the United States acts delicately so as not to endanger the lives of these Iranian-Americans.