Iran trial for Post reporter may be both farce and good news

An espionage trial for the Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran may presage a speedy post-verdict release, according to one expert on internal Iranian politics.

After Tuesday's word that Jason Rezaian will be tried next week in a Revolutionary Court, Iranian-American author-journalist Hooman Majd told me the timing seems significant in that it precedes any resolution of ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and the U.S.

The latest deadline for finalizing a slew of complex nuclear issues is June 30. In a nation where trials usually take a few days — occasionally a week or two at most---that means the climax of Rezaian’s frustrating drama is imminent.

There were questions as to whether the Iranians would put him on trial before the seeming deadline for the negotiations, according to Majd, who is a contributor to Foreign Affairs magazine.

“A lot of people could see a trial before [the talks end] as a way to get rid of an issue they have with the U.S. and with the media. Or hardliners might wait until there was a deal.”

“Doing it now means having it over with before,” Majd said.

Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron on Tuesday again derided the prosecution as "contemptible" and urged that the proceeding be public. Majd suspects the matter will play out behind closed doors.

His suspicion is that the government wants to convict him, at least of something, and then let him go. Whether they find him guilty or not, be it of alleged espionage or a lesser charge, they’d have him sentenced —if convicted — and gone before the nuclear talks conclude.

Make no mistake, Majd said, hardliners probably strongly believe that Iranian-Americans like Rezaian, and Majd himself, are spies working for the U.S. government. And in their minds, they have conclusive evidence.

And, for sure, there are hardliners who want to poke a finger in the eyes of both the U.S. and perhaps even of reformers within the Iran government’s own ranks who desire improved relations with the West, he said.

“It seems that the regime has come to a conclusion that it needs to have this episode put behind them. So they need it over with.”

Majd thus sees world of the trial as positive. The U.S. doesn’t want to make the issue of the journalist, or two Americans previously convicted of dubious charges and now doing time in prison there, an ongoing issue in the nuclear talks.

So doing the trial soon “is probably a gesture, a way to avoid this issue coming up against in dealings with America.”

The Iranians, he said, have much on their domestic and foreign policy plates. “Once a nuclear deal is done, there have other issues: Syria, Yemen, the fight against ISIS, among others.”

Two others will stand trial with Rezaian: Yeganeh Salehi, who is his wife and a correspondent for an Abu Dhabi newspaper, and a freelance photographer whose identity has not been disclosed.

The Post reporter has been detained since July 22 and permitted to meet an attorney just once, in the presence of government interpreters.

Rezaian's lawyer says he has been charged with four crimes, including espionage, "collaborating with hostile governments" and "propaganda against the establishment," according to The Washington Post.

The Post is seeking to procure a visa so an editor can attend the trial but has not received a response from the government, Baron told his paper.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this post incorrectly spelled Hooman Majd's last name.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.


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