Ali Shamkhani, chief of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, claimed today that U.S. Republican officials reached out to Tehran asking that the recent release of four American prisoners be delayed until after the upcoming presidential election. There are very good reasons to be skeptical of Shamkhani’s claim. If it is true, it is completely insane.
“In the course of the talks for exchanging prisoners, the Republican rivals of the current US administration who claim to be humanitarians and advocates of human rights sent a message telling us not to release these people (American prisoners) and continue this process (of talks) until the eve of US presidential elections...However, we acted upon our independent resolve and moved the process forward.” Shamkhani said at a rally yesterday, according to the Tasnim News Agency, a firmly pro-regime organization.
The implication is that these mystery Republicans wanted their own party to receive credit for freeing the Americans, and that they were willing to let their countrymen sit in an overseas jail for 11 more months to get it.
But the idea of GOP lawmakers reaching out directly to Iran to strike a backchannel deal seems pretty dubious. For one, they would have to contend with the likelihood that communications with such a volatile actor would be surveilled by the U.S. Intelligence Community. For another, the GOP party line advocates for all-out war against the country. What Republican in his right mind would think he had influence there?
Considering Shamkhani’s emphasis on Iran’s “independent resolve” to pursue the prisoner swap on-schedule, it’s possible he wanted to have his cake and eat it too: Iran gets back six Iranian-American prisoners by engaging the U.S. diplomatically, but manages to look like it’s resisting U.S. influence while doing it.
All in all, it seems pretty unlikely that Shamkhani’s claims are true. But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time American Republicans made a secret deal with Iran! So who knows.