The Biden White House said Wednesday that it will continue pursuing a new nuclear deal with the Iranian regime, even after it emerged the United States had disrupted a plot by Iranian intelligence officials to kidnap an Iranian-born American citizen on U.S. soil.
The Justice Department unsealed court documents alleging that an Iranian intelligence network plotted to kidnap Masih Alinejad, an author and journalist highly critical of the Tehran regime, and planned to rendition her back to Tehran. The DOJ’s indictment charged four Iranian nationals with conspiracy to kidnap the Brooklyn-based human rights activist, contending the Iranians researched methods to transport her out of the U.S. and into Iran, including researching military-style speedboats to take her out of New York City and to Venezuela, and then on to Iran for imprisonment.
Alinejad tweeted Tuesday night: “I am grateful to FBI for foiling the Islamic Republic of Iran's Intelligence Ministry's plot to kidnap me … Spare a thought for many other Iranian dissidents kidnapped and executed by this regime.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the Biden administration’s reaction to the Iranian plot on Wednesday.
“First off, this is a law enforcement matter, of course, hence the announcement came out of there, and we’re not going to weigh in on the specific allegations in the indictment,” Psaki said. “Overall though, we categorically condemn [the] dangerous and despicable reported plot to kidnap a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. We will forcefully defend U.S. citizens and U.S. interests. That includes law enforcement actions like the one announced yesterday, as well as the actions the president has taken to defend U.S. forces in the region from Iranian-backed nuclear groups. It also includes our diplomatic effort to constrain Iran’s nuclear program — one of our most important and urgent actions. But its actions to attempt to silence the voices of those peacefully working to address the situation both inside of Iran and outside of Iran that are appalling — we’ll continue to speak out against that, and obviously, law enforcement authorities will take appropriate steps.”
When a reporter asked what impact the Iranian kidnapping plan would have on the U.S.’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, Psaki said the Biden administration would continue pursuing a deal.
“Well, it still remains — we have never assessed Iran to be a good actor in the world, not just by this plot to kidnap a U.S. person who is residing in the U.S., but their activities in the region, which we have had great concern about and the president has taken retaliatory actions for. But at the same time, we still see it in U.S. interests and in our national interests to engage an ongoing discussion so that we can have greater visibility to Iran’s path to acquire a nuclear weapon. So we will continue to pursue those talks, pursue the diplomatic path forward — we think it is in our interests and continues to be constructive.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and the ranking member on House Foreign Affairs, said Tuesday night that the Iranian plot “serves as another reminder that the Biden Administration bending over backwards to re-enter the JCPOA is likely sacrificing our leverage to compel Iran to cease its other malign activities.” He added: “This is a regime that holds American hostages and is actively trying to kidnap an American from the streets of New York. President Biden should not enter into any deals with Iran without an end to these assaults on our citizens.”
An unnamed “U.S. official” told Politico, “Yes, we intend to continue our effort to limit Iran’s nuclear program through a return to mutual compliance with the [deal] while also actively protecting American citizens and American interests on nonnuclear issues.”
The Iran deal was reached between the “P5+1” (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.), the European Union, and Iran in 2015. Former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out in May 2018, saying: “In theory, the so-called ‘Iran deal’ was supposed to protect the United States and our allies from the lunacy of an Iranian nuclear bomb … In fact, the deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and, over time, reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.”
Iran had received an influx of billions in cash as a result of the Iran nuclear deal, including a jet carrying $400 million in euros and Swiss francs, another $1.3 billion in cash, the release of up to $150 billion in frozen Iranian assets, and the lifting of international sanctions. After leaving the deal, the Trump administration pursued a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, including a host of new sanctions.
“Today marks the anniversary of the failed Iran nuclear deal. We should have never entered that deal to begin with, which is exactly why our Administration left it,” former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Wednesday. “Now, Joe Biden is negotiating the same type of deal. This once again puts America at risk.”
Alinejad herself wrote in March, “In the rush to undo the previous administration’s record, the signs are there that Team Biden is about to make the grievous mistake of pursuing an agreement with the Islamic Republic without paying any heed to human rights … The nuclear issue and the economic sanctions are the only leverage Washington has over the Islamic Republic.” Alinejad, who fled Iran in 2009, settled in New York in 2014, and led social media campaigns criticizing the Iranian regime and its treatment of women, said earlier this year that “once sanctions are lifted, Tehran will have no desire to open up a dialogue on other issues, least of all on human rights.”
“Every person in the United States must be free from harassment, threats, and physical harm by foreign powers,” Mark Lesko, the acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s national security division, said on Tuesday. “Through this indictment, we bring to light one such pernicious plot to harm an American citizen who was exercising their First Amendment rights, and we commit ourselves to bring the defendants to justice.”
A State Department statement on Tuesday night said that the Biden administration “will continue to call out and stand up to Iran’s human rights abuses, and will support others who do so both here and in Iran,” but it did not directly mention the Iranian kidnapping plot against Alinejad.
The U.S.-Iran talks in Vienna seem to have hit a wall recently, and U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley told CNN on Wednesday that ”we will go back whenever Iran is ready to go back.”
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