Geopolitical Insights

Academy Securities SITREP – U.S. | Iran Prisoner Deal

September 18, 2023
What has Happened:

• Today, five Americans who had been imprisoned in Iran were released and are on their way back home.

• This deal reportedly includes the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue from South Korea to a bank in Qatar and the dismissal of federal charges against five Iranians accused of violating U.S. sanctions.

• U.S. officials stated that the use of financial sanctions and monitoring will try to ensure that Iran uses the $6 billion in funds for humanitarian purposes only, but Iran could likely just direct other funds to their weapons programs instead.

• The completion of this prisoner deal comes on the heels of the first anniversary of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, which set off nationwide protests in Iran resulting in hundreds of deaths and the imprisonment of thousands of Iranians.

• As we addressed in our previous ATW, the U.S. deployed additional forces to the Persian Gulf region to deter Iranian interdiction of commercial shipping and that strategy appears to be working (the Iranians have not only slowed these activities, but also have not conducted any attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq or Syria since March).

• While this deal is not related to the nuclear discussions that have stalled once again, the hope is that it might remove an impediment for re-engagement between the U.S./West and Iran at a time when Iran continues to restrict IAEA access to its nuclear facilities.

Why it Matters:

“Secretary of State Blinken made it clear that the prisoner swap is only about returning American citizens that were unfairly detained and is not part of any nuclear or diplomatic negotiations. Bringing U.S. citizens home is always positive, but swapping American citizens for Iranian foreign agents along with releasing $6 billion is a questionable trade. For Iran, this is not about the prisoner swap, it’s all about the $6 billion. The U.S. challenge will be to ensure that the money is not used by the Ayatollahs to fund Russia’s war efforts, Iran's nuclear program, and their proxy attacks across the Middle East. This will not be easy because Iran’s President Raisi said that they will use the money however they want. The deal is tied to the Biden administration’s strategy of easing sanctions in order to thaw relations with Iran. There has been no change in Iran’s efforts to fund state sponsored terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas and their goal is to get the U.S. out of the Middle East. Iran only understands strength and will. The question now is whether or not this deal will just encourage Iran and other bad actors to detain more Americans.” – General Robert Walsh

“Iran will use the money as it sees fit. The Iranians need the U.S. to be their enemy so that they can keep their population believing in their governance structure while younger Iranians push back on it. Nationalism is flamed by having an adversary like the U.S. that keeps a sanctions regime in effect and could potentially strike in retaliation for Iran’s malign efforts. I don’t see Iran ever coming back to the table for nuclear negotiations. They will continue to support the Russians and the Russian narrative against the U.S.” – General Frank Kearney

“I don’t necessarily see this outcome as an accelerant to taking other American hostages. Each detainment has its own unique circumstances (as does this one) and not all nations would be treated in the same way in a hostage situation. While it is great news for the families, each of these decisions are weighed against our national interests and values. I won’t read into what the administration may have thought this provided the U.S. in the way of leverage or influence with the Iranian regime. What I do assess is that the Iranian leadership will compartmentalize this action and will not see it as a bridge to other negotiations. In this case the act of returning what they see as their $6 billion is not a catalyst to any other action and will be judged on its own separate merits.” – General Robert Ashley