Washington, DC – The prisoner swap between america and Iran is a step in the direction of de-escalating tensions between the 2 international locations, specialists say, but it surely doesn’t level to an imminent thaw in frosty relations.
Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran programme on the Center East Institute suppose tank in Washington, DC, known as the prisoner trade a “transactional deal”.
The settlement additionally included the discharge of 5 Iranian prisoners within the US and the unfreezing of $6bn in Iranian funds blocked in South Korea resulting from American sanctions.
“All people is principally reconciling themselves with the truth that the most effective they will do for now’s to take small steps towards stopping a disaster,” Vatanka instructed Al Jazeera.
“In order that’s all it’s. There is no such thing as a huge imaginative and prescient being articulated by anyone that would inform us that one thing by way of a breakthrough is within the pipeline. There is no such thing as a signal of that.”
5 American citizens beforehand detained in Iran had been flown in another country on Monday as a part of the settlement, which was facilitated by Qatar and different international locations.
They landed within the Qatari capital, Doha, on Monday afternoon and had been anticipated to be “quickly be reunited with their family members—after enduring years of agony, uncertainty, and struggling”, US President Joe Biden mentioned in a statement.
However as Biden and different members of his administration hailed the discharge of the detained Individuals, US officers have said repeatedly that the prisoner deal won’t change Washington’s strategy to Tehran.
The US and Iran have skilled heightened tensions since 2018 when former US President Donald Trump nixed a multilateral deal that noticed Tehran reduce its nuclear programme in trade for the lifting of sanctions in opposition to its economic system.
President Joe Biden got here into workplace in early 2021 promising to revive the Iran nuclear accord, formally generally known as the Joint Complete Plan of Motion (JCPOA).
However as a number of rounds of oblique negotiations didn’t restore the pact, Washington continued to implement its sanctions regime in opposition to Tehran and piled on extra penalties.
JCPOA talks had been finally placed on maintain, and makes an attempt to revive them had been sophisticated by the crackdown on protesters in Iran in addition to accusations that Tehran was offering Moscow with drones for use in Ukraine.
Biden administration officers additionally have stressed that Iran will solely be allowed to make use of the unfrozen funds for humanitarian functions amid criticism from Republican legislators who accused Washington of paying a ransom for hostages — in opposition to acknowledged authorities coverage.
Simply days in the past, because the prisoner swap loomed, the US imposed sanctions on dozens of Iranian officers and entities over human rights abuses throughout a crackdown on antigovernment protests in Iran final 12 months.
The US additionally issued sanctions in opposition to former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence because the prisoner swap was underway on Monday. “We are going to proceed to impose prices on Iran for his or her provocative actions within the area,” Biden mentioned.
Nonetheless, supporters of diplomacy are hopeful that Monday’s settlement may function a step in the direction of restarting negotiations on the nuclear file, in addition to different points.
Sina Toossi, a senior fellow on the Heart for Worldwide Coverage suppose tank in Washington, DC, mentioned whereas it stays unlikely that Iran and the US will attain a broader settlement quickly, the prisoner swap is an “vital first step”.
“That is going to deliver Individuals house. That is going to permit for humanitarian aid to go to the Iranian individuals who desperately want it,” Toossi mentioned of the prisoner trade, as US officers have stressed that Iran will solely be allowed to make use of the unfrozen $6bn for humanitarian functions.
“And this creates the grounds for the US and Iran to get away from this harmful, hostile, confrontational policy they’ve had, and hopefully transfer in the direction of a broader diplomatic deal,” Toossi instructed Al Jazeera.
However he mentioned reviving the JCPOA is “untenable” at this stage, particularly with a looming US presidential election in November 2024.
He mentioned Biden is unlikely to make concessions to Iran forward of the vote, which might invite assaults from Republican hawks; on the similar time, Iran would wish to maintain on to its personal leverage in case Trump – the heavy favourite within the Republican 2024 nomination race – returns to energy.
Republicans are already decrying the prisoner trade and accusing Biden of improperly handing cash to Tehran. Biden administration officers have stressed that Iran will solely be allowed to make use of the unfrozen funds for humanitarian functions.
However Toossi accused Republican lawmakers of spreading disinformation concerning the deal, stressing – like senior Biden administration officers have – that the funds are Iran’s personal cash. “There’s a variety of efforts to intentionally mislead the general public concerning the nature of this sort of settlement and previous comparable agreements,” he mentioned.
‘Containing the disaster’
On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned the US is presently “not engaged” with Iran however will “proceed to see if there are alternatives” for diplomacy. Nevertheless, he careworn that the prisoner swap will not be linked to the nuclear talks.
“Let me be very clear that this course of and the engagements essential to deliver concerning the freedom of those unjustly detained Individuals has all the time been a separate observe in our engagement – or for that matter lack of engagement – with Iran,” Blinken instructed reporters.
The connection between Washington and Tehran in current months has been characterised by an ebb and circulate of indicators of de-escalation on one hand, and spiking tensions on the opposite.
Earlier this month, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, generally known as the IAEA, mentioned in a confidential evaluation that Iran slowed down its manufacturing of close to weapons-grade enriched uranium, The Related Press information company reported.
US media studies in current months additionally mentioned the 2 international locations had reached an informal understanding to avert confrontations and partly curb Tehran’s nuclear programme, however Biden administration officers have denied reaching any form of settlement with Iran.
Nevertheless, final month, the US despatched 1000’s of troops to the Gulf area in response to allegations of Iranian harassment of worldwide ships within the strategic waters. The US additionally seized a tanker carrying Iranian oil earlier this 12 months that it mentioned was being bought in violation of its sanctions.
Based on Vatanka on the Center East Institute, the events for essentially the most half stay centered on “containing the disaster”.
“There will likely be persevering with efforts on each side to check the opposite’s resolve: extra sanctions, extra Iranian actions within the area, and forwards and backwards,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
“However neither facet clearly needs this to get uncontrolled and end in a capturing conflict. That a lot they agree on.”