United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US Presidential Candidates on Prisoner Swap

Nearly all of the U.S. presidential candidates have reacted to the prisoner swap with Iran. The following are excerpted remarks. Click the name of each candidate to learn more.




Hillary Clinton
Former Secretary of State under Obama and former Senator from New York

“I am greatly relieved by the safe return of American prisoners from Iran. Their families and our country have waited and prayed for this day to come.
“I also welcome the full implementation of the nuclear agreement, an important achievement of diplomacy backed by pressure. Implementation marks an important step forward in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran has dismantled centrifuges, disabled a reactor, and shipped out almost all of its enriched uranium. These are important steps that make the United States, our allies, and the entire world safer. I congratulate President Obama and his team, and I’m proud of the role I played to get this process started.
“But we shouldn’t thank Iran for the prisoners or for following through on its obligations. These prisoners were held unjustly by a regime that continues to threaten the peace and security of the Middle East. Another American, Bob Levinson, still isn’t home with his family. The treatment of our Navy sailors earlier this week was offensive, including the release of a demeaning and provocative video. Iran is still violating UN Security Council resolutions with its ballistic missile program, which should be met with new sanctions designations and firm resolve.
“So we can’t take our eye off the ball. As President, my approach will be to distrust and verify. I will vigorously enforce the nuclear deal as part of a comprehensive strategy that confronts all of Iran’s negative actions in the region and stand side-by-side with our ally Israel and our Arab partners.”
—Jan. 16, 2016, in a statement 
Martin O’Malley
Former Governor of Maryland

“Great news on the release of Jason Rezaian and others. Memo to Republican candidates: diplomacy beats carpet bombing.”
—Jan. 16, 2016, in a statement




Bernie Sanders
Senator from Vermont

“This good news shows that diplomacy can work even in this volatile region of the world.”
—Jan. 16, 2016, in a statement 



Jeb Bush
Former Governor of Florida
“I would say ... if you do not release them, that there's going to be military action, that that's an act of provocation, an act of war. What I would do in January is recognize that Iran is not an ally. That's how the Obama administration views this.”
“I’m happy that hostages—because that’s what they were—were released—in return for people that violated United States law.”
“It doesn’t seem like there’s much symmetry there.”
[They were released] in return for people that violated Iran sanctions, Iranians that were in prison here for violating those sanctions."
Every time we show weakness it is a victory for Iran.”
“Prayers answered as American hostages coming home. Await more details on swap. They never should have been held at all.” (in a Tweet)
—Jan. 16, 2016, to reporters via Reuters, TIME and CNN 
Ben Carson
Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins Hospital
“I am very pleased that four American citizens, who were illegally imprisoned by Iran in flagrant violation of longstanding international human rights norms, have finally been released.”
“[T]he fact remains that President Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran is fatally flawed and gravely jeopardizes the national security interests of the American people, our ally Israel and other peaceful nations in the Middle East and around the world.”
—Jan. 16, 2016, in a statement

Chris Christie
Governor of New Jersey
“The concern I have, and we don't know yet, is that the president made a trade. Now, when this president makes trades this is a big problem. This is not a guy I would let negotiate buying a car for me let alone anything else. I mean he makes bad deals and he seems to become an expert at making bad deal with the Iranians. The fact is that we shouldn't have to trade anything to get our citizens back home.”
—Jan. 16, 2016, in a statement


Ted Cruz
Senator from Texas

“I want to start with words of thanksgiving. We have just gotten the news that Pastor Saeed and three other Americans are apparently coming home from Iran. And I simply say praise God.”
“We don't know the details of the deal that is bringing them home. And then it may well be that there are some very problematic aspects to this deal. But at least this morning, I am giving thanks that Pastor Saeed is coming home.”
It is far later than it should have been, but we will be glad to welcome him home with open arms.”
—Jan. 16, 2016, to reporters
Carly Fiorina
Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard
*No reaction as of yet. 
Mike Huckabee
Former Governor of Arkansas
[T]hey should've been released before we ever sat down at the negotiating table.”
They've been there more than a year too long. Actually they've been there several years too long.”
—Jan. 16, 2016, during a South Carolina tea party convention
John Kasich
Governor of Ohio
"In terms of the release, I'm glad these people are out. But, you know, they were there on trumped up charges....It's a bad situation. We're glad they're out, but we don't want to have Iranians just grabbing people and trying to get their own people out."
—Jan. 17, 2016, on CBS Face the Nation
Rand Paul
Senator from Kentucky
“Our prayers have been answered today, as Pastor Abedini will return home to his wife and children in America. Pastor Abedini is an incredibly brave man for risking his life for his Christian beliefs and I am pleased that our government did not sit idly by while an American citizen was persecuted abroad due to religious intolerance.”
“The United States stands as a beacon of freedom and hope for those across the globe, and as such, we must continue to fight for the safe return of those wrongfully imprisoned abroad based on their religious beliefs.”
—Jan. 16, 2016, in a statement
Marco Rubio
Senator from Florida
“Thankful that prayers have been answered and Pastor Saeed, Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian and another American will finally come home.”
“Iran needs to also help locate Floridian Robert Levinson. This hostage-taking must stop.”
The Americans who were released “should have never, never been there in the first place.”
“None of them did anything wrong.”
“And we should not be involved in swaps. These things should never happen is my point.”
“The fact of the matter is that this tells us all that we need to know about the Iranian regime. That they take people hostage in order to gain concessions. And the fact that they can get away with it with this administration is one of the reasons.”
“I think this has created incentives for more governments to do this around the world.”
“When you do deals like the Bergdahl deal and other things you incentivize people to take American hostages and other things even if they did nothing wrong.”
—Jan. 16, 2016, to reporters

Rick Santorum
Former Senator from Pennsylvania
“First, we are returning criminals back to Iran in return for freeing innocent Americans. Under no rational analysis is that a fair deal.”
“Second, this exchange proves that Iran is no friend and continues to get the upper hand in negotiations with the Obama Administration. As I said in Thursday's debate, Barack Obama's deal with Iran must be shredded and I intend to do that on day one of my presidency.”
—Jan. 26, 2016, in a statement 
Donald Trump
CEO of the Trump Organization
I'm happy they're coming back. But I will tell you, it's a disgrace that they've been there for so long. It's a disgrace. Remember that. A total disgrace.”
“Somebody said they're getting seven people back. So essentially, they get a $150 billion plus seven and we get four.”
—Jan. 16, 2016, during a rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Photo credits: Jeb Bush [CC BY-SA 4.0]; Ben Carson by Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 4.0]; Chris Christie by Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 4.0]; Ted Cruz [public domain as US Govt work]; Carly Fiorina by Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 2.0]; Mike Huckabee by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0]; John Kasich [public domain as US Govt work]; Rand Paul [public domain as US Govt work]; Marco Rubio by Gage Skidmore  [CC BY-SA 2.0]; Donald Trump by Michael Vadon  [CC BY-SA 4.0]; Hillary Clinton [public domain as US Govt work]; Martin O'Malle[CC BY 2.0]; Bernie Sanders [public domain as US Govt work]; Rick Santorum by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]


UN: Iran Has Met Nuclear Obligations

On January 16, the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s director general confirmed that Iran has taken the necessary steps to start implementation of the nuclear deal. Implementation Day will trigger the lifting or suspension of certain U.S., E.U., and U.N. sanctions on Iran. Iran will also be able to access the international financial system, repatriate billions of dollars in frozen assets abroad, and return to the oil market. The following is Yukiya Amano’s full statement published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Today, I released a report confirming that Iran has completed the necessary preparatory steps to start the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The report was submitted to the IAEA Board of Governors and to the United Nations Security Council.
It was issued after Agency inspectors on the ground verified that Iran has carried out all measures required under the JCPOA to enable Implementation Day to occur.
This paves the way for the IAEA to begin verifying and monitoring Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the agreement, as requested by the U.N. Security Council and authorised by the IAEA Board.
Relations between Iran and the IAEA now enter a new phase. It is an important day for the international community. I congratulate all those who helped make it a reality, especially the group of countries known as the E3/EU+3, Iran and the IAEA Board.
In line with its commitments, Iran will start to provisionally implement the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. Together with other nuclear-related measures under the JCPOA, this increases the Agency’s ability to monitor nuclear activities in Iran and to verify that they are peaceful.

We have come a long way since the IAEA first started considering the Iran nuclear issue in 2003. A lot of work has gone into getting us here, and implementation of this agreement will require a similar effort. For our part, we are ready to get on with the job. 


Fifth American Freed by Iran

On January 16, Iran released American student, writer and researcher Matt Trevithick, who had been held in Evin Prison for 40 days. He was released separately from the four Iranian-Americans that were part of a prisoner swap. The following is a biography of Trevithick with a statement from his family.
Matt Trevithick worked as the Director of Communications at the American University of Afghanistan from 2010 to 2014. Previously, he worked at the American University of Iraq. He is the co-host of Sources and Methods, a bi-weekly podcast which interviews leading writers and researchers on their research strategies and tools. 
Trevithick’s first book is the autobiography of Afghanistan's first Minister of Higher Education after the fall of the Taliban, with a foreword written by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Before going overseas, he was a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C., where he worked with Distinguished Fellow Robin Wright. He also conducted research at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.
Trevithick’s work has been featured in The Atlantic, Foreign Policy Magazine, the Daily Beast, the Wall St. Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He speaks Dari and can get by in Russian and Arabic, and has lived and traveled across the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa, including Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Mali. He has a silver medal from the 2008 Head of the Charles Regatta, and has coached the Iraqi and Afghan national rowing teams.

Trevithick is on Twitter at @MattTrevithick. 

Click here to visit his blog. 
Statement from Trevithick Family
We are very happy that our son, Matthew Trevithick, was released today after 40 days of detention at Evin Prison in Tehran. Matt went to Iran in September for a four-month, intensive language program at the Dehkhoda Institute, a language center affiliated with Tehran University.

Matt is a co-founder of the Turkey-based SREO, a nonpartisan research center that  provides objective analysis on the humanitarian crisis in the region.

Matt took a leave of absence from SREO in September 2015 to build on his fluency in Dari, a language closely related to Farsi that he learned while living for four years in Afghanistan.

We are profoundly grateful to all those who worked for his release and are happy for all the families whose loved ones are also heading home. We look forward to reuniting with Matt and ask that all respect his privacy as he returns.

Photo credit: Robin Wright


Seven Iranians Freed by US in Prisoner Swap

Iranian news outlets reported on January 16 that the United States released seven Iranians — Nader Modanloo, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghahi, Arash Ghahreman, Nima Golestaneh, and Ali Saboonchi —as part of a prisoner swap with Iran. The State Department later confirmed that the United States “offered clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens, who had been convicted or are pending trial in the United States.”  Washington also “removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.” Tehran, in turn, released four Iranian-AmericansThe following are profiles of the seven Iranians. 
Khosrow Afghahi, Tooraj Faridi and Bahram Mechanic
Charges: A 24-count indictment was unsealed on April 16, 2015 charging four corporations and five individuals with facilitating $24 million in illegal exports of high-tech microelectronics to Iran between 2010 and 2015. The goods had potential military applications.
Three of the individuals who were charged – Khosrow Afghahi, Tooraj Faridi and Bahram Mechanic – were acting as agents of the Iranian procurement network in the United States. Mechanic is a dual citizen who has lived in America for more than 30 years.
Mechanic and Afghahi own the Iran-based company Faratel as well as the Texas-based sister company Smart Power Systems, headed by Faridi. The FBI accused the companies of designing and building “uninterruptable power supplies for various Iranian entities.” Mechanic and Afghahi allegedly shipped goods to a company in Taiwan, which then sent them to Iran via Turkey.
Sentence: The defendants would have faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted. 
Arash Ghahreman
Charges: On June 17, 2013, Ghahreman was arrested for planning to export military-capable technology to Iran via a front company in Dubai.
Ghahreman came to the United States in 2007 and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Between December 2012 and June 2013, he acted as part of an Iranian procurement network to send electronic equipment to Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions. Ghahreman coordinated withKoorush Taherkhani, based in Iran, and Ergun Yildiz, a German national acting as the head of the UAE front company intended to facilitate the exports.
Federal authorities were tipped off when Ghahreman contacted Northrop Grumman about purchasing gyrocompasses. Undercover agents posing as suppliers communicated with Ghahreman for several months, during which he agreed to purchase four gyrocompasses and 50 electron tubes. He was arrested after meeting the undercover agents in San Diego to finalize the deal.
According to Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin, Ghahreman “used a front company to illegally send U.S. goods and technologies - including those used in military applications to Iran.” He added that the violations “have the potential to harm U.S. national security objectives.”
Sentence: On Apr. 23, 2015, Ghahreman was convicted on convicted on seven of the nine counts in his indictment. On Aug. 27, 2015, he was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison.
Nima Golestaneh
Charges: A warrant for Golestaneh's arrest was issued in December 2014, but it is unclear exactly when he was detained. Turkey extradited Golestaneh to Vermont on Feb. 12, 2015. He was charged with “four felony counts of wire fraud and single counts of computer fraud and conspiracy to defraud a Vermont company.”
Between April 2012 and May 2013, Golestaneh allegedly remotely accessed the company software of a Vermont aerodynamics company with the intent to steal a copy of the company's proprietary software. The software is used for aerodynamic analysis and design and is typically sold for $40,000 to $800,000 per unit.
Sentence: On December 2, 2015, Golestaneh signed a plea agreement charging him with Wire Fraud and Fraud in Connection with Computers. He faced up to 20 years in prison for the prior charge and up to five years in prison for the latter charge. Before the swap, Golestaneh was still awaiting sentencing.
Nader Modanlo
Charges: Modanlo was arrested and indicted in June 2010. He was charged with export violations and money laundering while working with Russian officials to launch Iran’s first earth-observation satellite.
Modanlo is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Iran. From January 2000 to Nov. 27, 2007, Modanlo and seven others evaded sanctions to hide Iran's involvement in illegal activities. He used a front company in Switzerland to conceal the activity.
Sentence: On Dec. 20, 2013, Modanlo was sentenced to eight years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to forfeit $10 million. He appealed the case in 2014, but it was dismissed.
Ali Saboonchi
Charges: On March 4, 2013, Saboonchi was indicted on charges of conspiracy and seven counts of illegally exporting manufactured industrial products to Iran.
Saboonchi set up Ace Electric Company and coordinated with Arash Rashti Mohammad, based in Iran, to send products to Iranian businesses between 2009 and 2013. Sanboochi allegedly shipped the products to entities in the United Arab Emirates and China, which then sent the goods to Iran. The products included stainless steel filter elements and liquid pumps and valves, which are used in the oil and gas industry.
Sentence: Saboonchi was convicted on Aug. 11, 2014. On Feb. 2, 2015, he was sentenced to two years in prison and one year of supervised release.

Amid Secret Diplomacy, US & Iran Said…

Despite progress on the nuclear deal, Iran and U.S. leaders have insisted over the past year that negotiations had a singular focus. Both sides claimed that they were not straying into other subjects—when, in fact, both governments had authorized a secret channel to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Americans imprisoned in Iran and the Iranians convicted or charged in the United States with sanctions-busting offenses. Secretary of State John Kerry had said he raised the prisoner issue in meetings with his counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, but did not characterize those discussions as negotiations. The following are quotes by top leaders in Tehran and Washington about not dealing with each other—when in fact they already were.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
“These ongoing negotiations - part of which is conducted with the Americans - are only related to nuclear matters. They are only related to these matters. In the present time, we have no negotiations with America on any other matter. There is no other matter. Everyone should know this. We do not negotiate with the Americans on regional issues, different domestic issues and international issues. Today, the only matter for negotiation is the nuclear matter. This will become an experience for us. If the other side stops its usual obstinacy, this will be an experience for us and we will find out that we can negotiate with it over other matters as well. But if we see that they continue to behave in the same obstinate and deviant way, well, our previous experience will naturally be strengthened.”
—April 9, 2015, in a speech
“The next point is that our policy towards the arrogant government of America will not change in any way despite these negotiations and the document that has been prepared. As we have said many times, we have no negotiations with America on different global and regional issues. We have no bilateral negotiations with America. Sometimes, we have negotiated with them in exceptional cases such as the nuclear issue and we have done so because of our interests. The nuclear issue was not the only case. There were other cases as well which I have referred to in my previous public speeches. The American policies in the region are 180 degrees the opposite of the policies of the Islamic Republic. The Americans accuse Hezbollah and the Lebanese Resistance - who are the most self-sacrificing forces in their country in the area of national defense - of terrorism. There is no injustice worse than this. This is while they support the terrorist child-killing government of Zionism. How can one do business, negotiate and reach an agreement with such a policy? There are other cases as well and I will expand on them in other speeches.”
—July 18, 2015, after prayers marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan
“America does not even hide its enmity, rather it divides its responsibilities. One of them smiles and another prepares a bill against the Islamic Republic. This is a kind of dividing responsibilities. They pursue something called "negotiations", but negotiations are just an excuse and a tool for penetration. Negotiations are an instrument for imposing their demands. We agreed to negotiate with the Americans only on the nuclear issue because of certain reasons that we have frequently mentioned. Well, our officials did so. Thankfully, our negotiators had a good performance in this arena, but we did not allow them to negotiate with America on other matters.
“We are willing to negotiate with the whole world, but we will not negotiate with America. We are men of negotiation and understanding on a governmental, public - people from other countries - and religious level. We are men of negotiation and we negotiate with everyone except for America.”
—Sept. 9, 2015, in a speech
“Negotiation with the U.S. is forbidden, because of the numerous disadvantages that it has and the benefits that it doesn't have, this is different to negotiating with a state which has no such facilities and no such motivation [against Iran].”
—Oct. 7, 2015, in an address to Revolutionary Guards Navy commanders via Reuters
President Hassan Rouhani
“We solved the nuclear issue at the negotiating table. We are capable of settling other regional and global issues through negotiations as well.” 
“I am telling U.S. authorities and politicians that you should decide and make a major shift in policy.”
—July 26, 2015, in a speech according to ISNA and the Tehran Times
“If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set them free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well.”
—Sept. 27, 2015, in an interview with CNN while in New York for the U.N. General Assembly
“One day these embassies will re-open but what counts is behavior and the Americans hold the key to this.”
“If they [Americans] modify their policies, correct errors committed in these 37 years and apologize to the Iranian people, the situation will change and good things can happen.”
—Nov. 12, 2015, in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper via Reuters
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Question (The New Yorker): What would be next on the U.S.-Iran agenda?
Zarif: I’ll take one step at a time. But I’ll take firm steps. And you saw that that works. We took a firm step; we did not confuse the nuclear issue with other issues. People were talking, were saying we had to mix other issues. We stayed on message, as you say in campaigns, and we were able to crack this very difficult issue. If we stay on the same line and continue good-faith implementation of J.C.P.O.A., then we have a possibility to create some confidence that would enable us to deal with other issues.
—October 2015, in an interview with The New Yorker
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
“There are practical ways of course [to free Americans held in Iran]. For example, there is a number of Iranians in prison here [in the United States]. Definitely for matters of this sort, one can come up with solutions. I think your politicians know about those ways… That's one way [prisoner exchange]. There are other ways that the judiciary systems of the two countries can come up with. It is the judiciary that has to decide about it.”
—Sept. 4, 2015, in an interview with NPR
United States
Secretary of State John Kerry
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, during these weeks and months of exhausting negotiations and discussions with the Iranians, was there ever an opportunity to raise the issue of the four Americans being held by the Iranians? And if so, if there was, did you get any indication of their status or their prospects perhaps for release?
KERRY: Mike, there was not a meeting that took place – not one meeting that took place – believe me, that’s not an exaggeration – where we did not raise the issue of our American citizens being held. And in fact, it was the last conversation that I had with the foreign minister at the Vienna Center. Right before we went out publicly, I talked to him the last time about that. We remain very, very hopeful that Iran will make a decision to do the right thing and to return those citizens to the United States. And we are consistently, constantly, even now, continuing to work on that.
—July 17, 2015, in an interview with MSNBC
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
“We have been quite clear from the very beginning — long before a deal was even reached — that the negotiations were focused primarily on Iran’s nuclear program. That was our number one concern.”
—Jan. 15, 2016, to the press



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