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Hostage Diplomacy: Roxana Saberi and the Three Jailed Iranian Diplomats

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In response to a piece in which I thoroughly criticized the Iranian Intelligence regarding the arrest of American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi, I was contacted by an Iranian diplomat who asked, me; if it's all about human rights, why isn't anybody talking about the three Iranian diplomats who have been taken hostage by the U.S. forces in Iraq since 2007?

What was he implying? What is the connection with the arrest of a journalist in Tehran and those three Iranian diplomats in Iraq? And is that the reason why the United States has been tragically unsuccessful in helping to release Saberi or other American-Iranians in prison?

There is a simple answer to this question; the Obama administration is not in a position to, directly, put pressure on the Iranian government to release it's imprisoned citizen. On the contrary, U.S. authorities' frequent demands from the Iranian government has changed the nature of Saberi's case from a domestic matter and elevated it to a U.S-Iran relation issue. Now, while Roxana Saberi is sitting in a cell at the notorious Evin prison, she likely understands that she is simply a pawn in the U.S-Iran cat and mouse game.

On January 11, 2007, U.S. forces arrested five Iranian diplomats in Iran's Consulate. The U.S. forces say that those arrested were members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is a part of Iran's official army. The United States considers IRGC a terrorist organization. Two of these diplomats were released in November 2007 after 305 days in prison. The other three are still in the U.S. custody. No one expects teachers or fishermen to be sent to U.S. embassies around the world; U.S. embassies are filled with CIA agents, military associates and diplomats, as are the Iranian embassies. Therefore no one should be surprised that the arrested individuals are members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps; Iran is practically run by the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

President Ahmadinejad himself was a midlevel officer of the Revolutionary Guard back in the 1980's. Several dozens of Iranian Members of Parliament are also former Revolutionary Guard commanders; add to this a long list of ministers and high-ranking officials. On the other hand, the Intelligence Service section of the Revolutionary Guard is in charge of finding spies and identifying other threats, rendering it a force that has been running the show for arresting Iranian-Americans over the last years.

In an interview, Saberi's lawyer told me there is no evidence in her case that validates the claim that she had intention to spy for anybody in the U.S. This lack of solid evidence shows that the Iranian government cannot prove such charges. If they had any evidence, they would have officially publicized it to embarrass the U.S. government, something they thrive on. But, let us not forget that the United States has publically admitted to sending agents to Iran.

American-Iranians who have dual nationality and travel with their Iranian passports are the easy targets. By arresting American-Iranians the Revolutionary Guard seeks two goals. First, fighting with the United States in a propaganda war and reminding them of their vulnerabilities, as well as sending a strong reminder about the three Iranian prisoners in US custody in Iraq. Secondly, sending an intimidating message to all Americans and American-Iranians who travel to Iran for business, journalistic assignments, or cultural tourism to shut their mouths and be careful of severe consequences of any attachment to the U.S. intelligence forces.

In fact, Roxana Saberi might be the latest victim of the proxy hostage taking game between the two countries.

On the other hand, while the arrest and imprisonment of Saberi, forcing her to write false confessions of her wrong-doings and sentencing her to eight years prison is unjustifiable (the Iranians do it on a regular basis with their own citizens), keeping three Iranian diplomats in prison for more than 2 years, with rumors of tortured and mistreatment, seems at odds with Obama's premise of mutual respect, which was beautifully formulated in his Nowruz message to Iranians last March.

The United States has to come to the realization that it's impossible to take three Iranian diplomats hostage for almost two years, no matter what you call them, and then expect the Iranian government to release Roxana Saberi. Iranian government should be accountable in the case of Saberi's arrest, as should the U.S. government in the case of those three diplomats. When is comes to human rights the color of your passport really doesn't matter.