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Trump and Iran: Yet Another Hostage Crisis

Published by The New Yorker

Robin Wright

Short of last-minute diplomacy, Donald Trump will inherit another hostage crisis with Iran on Inauguration Day—thirty-five years after the first hostage drama at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran ended, as Ronald Reagan was sworn in, and exactly one year after the Obama Administration’s swap to free five more Americans. The Islamic Republic has quietly arrested more Americans since the nuclear deal went into effect, in January, 2016, which coincided with a separate U.S. payment of $1.7 billion, transferred in three planeloads of cash, to settle a legal case from the Shah’s era. The deals were designed to curtail Tehran’s cyclical seizure of Americans, which had been a problem for both Bush Administrations, too.

Only they didn’t. At least six Americans and two green-card holders are now imprisoned or have disappeared in the Islamic Republic. One is now the longest-held civilian hostage in U.S. history. An undisclosed number have not been publicly identified.

Under President Trump, U.S. strategy on Iran was already likely to face a major overhaul. During the campaign, he vowed to “set fire” to the nuclear pact, which he called “the worst deal ever negotiated”—a view he repeats regularly in angry tweets. “My No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in March. “I have been in business a long time. I know deal-making and, let me tell you, this deal is catastrophic—for America, for Israel, and for the whole Middle East.” The United States, he has urged since then, “should double up and triple up the sanctions.”

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