As $6 Billion Iran Hostage Deal Is Celebrated, Family of a Sixth Hostage Wonders Why He Wasn’t Included

One cheerleader of the administration’s latest rapprochement deal with the Islamic Republic is the man who ran President Biden’s Iran policy until April, Robert Malley, who has been mum since his suspension for undisclosed violations.

AP/Florian Schroetter, file
Robert Malley on June 20, 2021, at Vienna. AP/Florian Schroetter, file

Even as supporters of engagement with the Islamic Republic celebrate a tentative deal for the release of five American hostages, some are asking why, for a price tag of $6 billion, all the Americans held at Iran’s notorious Evan prison can’t be included in the swap.

“I believe the U.S. negotiators gave up on my father to make a deal happen,” the son of Shahab Dalili, Darian, tells the Sun. The elder Mr. Dalili was not included in the hostage release announced Thursday. “My father, a 60-year-old man, has been in prison for more than seven years,” Mr. Dalili says. 

For now, that is where Mr. Dalili remains even as administration supporters praise the diplomatic skills that allowed the release of Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, Morad Tahbaz, and two other unidentified Americans who had been held at Evan. The five are being kept under house arrest at a Tehran hotel until the $6 billion deal is completed. 

Administration officials argue that the money — proceeds from past Iranian oil sales that had been held in a South Korean bank due to violations of American sanctions — would be used by the regime for humanitarian purposes only. Yet, an Iranian official denies that America would be able to monitor where the money ends up.   

One cheerleader of the administration’s latest rapprochement deal with the Islamic Republic is the man who ran President Biden’s Iran policy until April, Robert Malley, who has been mum since his suspension for undisclosed violations involving the unauthorized handling of state secrets. 

Mr. Malley’s official Twitter account, @USEnvoyIran, was overtaken by his former deputy, Abram Paley. His personal account, @Rob_Malley, has been dormant since April 20. Yet on Thursday, Mr. Malley posted an X message on that account, leading critics, who have long accused him of being too close to the Tehran regime, to wonder whether he was back in action. 

“It’s only a 1st step & every day they continue to be robbed of their freedom is a day too many,” Mr. Malley wrote of the five who were released from Evan but are yet to reach America. “But for Siamak, Morad, Emad, two others released from prison, & their loved ones, this is welcome news too long in coming. I know my colleagues won’t rest until they all return home.”

By “all,” he apparently meant only the five who were included in the deal. On Friday, the Dalili family traveled from their northern Virginia home to protest in front of the White House, which apparently has failed to include their father in the deal.  

In 2016 Shahab Dalili flew to the country he had left two years earlier to attend his father’s funeral. At the end of his one-week stay, while in a taxi to the airport for his return trip, he was arrested by Iranian intelligence agents. 

The charge, “communication with a hostile country,” was trumped up only because of his father’s American identity, according to his son. A retired commercial shipping captain, he says, “my father has never been a political figure. He has never done anything political.” 

Unlike the five hostages included in the latest deal, who were dual Iranian-American citizens, Mr. Dalili was arrested prior to receiving his citizenship. He had been a green-card holder, and like the rest of the family that had become American citizens while he was imprisoned, he would have received his citizenship shortly after his ill-fated trip to Iran. 

Either way, the distinction makes no difference, his son says, citing the 2019 Levinson Act that established a presidential envoy for wrongfully detained hostages, including “Lawful Permanent Residents,” as the Department of State notes. Yet billions of dollars was not enough to include one such resident, Mr. Dalili, in the deal. 

According to administration officials, the $6 billion released from the South Korean bank is to be deposited in a Qatari account. An avid supporter of Iran engagement, Barbara Slavin, quoted another supporter, Ali Vaez, as saying that access to the Doha bank would be limited and would only finance goods like food and medicine.

“This is a dishonest claim,” a top Iranian nuclear negotiator, Seyed Mohammad Marandi, retorted. “Iran would have full and direct access to its released assets,” adding that Iranian banks will control the funds “and they can purchase goods and services without any limitation or restriction.”

While counterclaims over the deal’s details are yet to be settled, the five hostages remain in limbo, and could yet be rearrested. Meanwhile Mr. Dalili’s family can only hope that he too will be freed from Evan one day. For now, his son says, the family can only get warden-monitored five-minute phone calls from the prison every few weeks. He says his father always tries to sound cheerful so the family will not worry.

When the Iranian regime cuts deals over American hostages, it always leaves some behind, “trying to hold on to as many people to have leverage,” Mr. Dalili says. America needs “to bring them all home, to end this cycle.”

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use