Three American hikers who apparently strayed across Iran’s border with Iraq have become pawns in Iran’s cynical game of foreign policy blackmail. Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd have been held in prison since being arrested last July on a hiking trip, after Iranian officials alleged that they crossed the poorly-marked border. Last week their mothers were allowed to travel to Tehran to meet with their imprisoned children, a sign that Iran’s thuggish regime believes that its bargaining leverage will be enhanced by publicizing the hostages’ plight.
Iran’s Intelligence Minister, Heydar Moslehi, told reporters on Sunday that “It is clear that the three Americans are spies,” despite the fact that the hikers have not been formally charged and the Iranians have produced no evidence to support their unfounded accusations. If they are found guilty of espionage in Iran’s arbitrary judicial system, they could face a death sentence.
Moslehi and other Iranian officials have hinted at a prisoner swap and have produced a list of 11 Iranians that they say are in custody in the United States or in third countries. At least one of the Iranians is believed to have defected from the government during a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Others have been jailed for smuggling arms or advanced technology to Iran.
Last September, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested that the three Americans could be released in return for the release of Iranians held in Iraq, who were Revolutionary Guards captured while posing as “diplomats.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton correctly rejected the idea of a prisoner swap in February. But the release of two Iranians in Iraqi custody last week, the day after the hikers’ mothers were allowed to see their children, has raised speculation about whether a backroom deal with Iran is in the works.
Taking hostages is a long-established tactic of Iran’s radical Islamist regime, which consolidated power in 1979 by exploiting the American hostages seized at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The three hapless hikers are only the latest in a long list of hostages that Tehran has taken, which also includes Robert Levinson, an American citizen who disappeared in Iran in 2007. History has shown that negotiating with Tehran to free hostages has encouraged it to take further hostages. Let’s hope that the Obama Administration is not going down that road again.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal