As Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian remains in a Tehran prison (we assume), the confusion and rank speculation over his case remained Monday.
Now there’s the belief that he’s got to be part of some prospective prisoner swap between Iran and the United States. In a recent New York City appearance, Iran President Hassan Rouhani suggested that Rezaian was a commodity whose freedom was predicated on a flesh and blood transaction.
The U.S. is very hesitant about trades but not dogmatic. It dealt three Cuban spies for an American spy last December. But the U.S., journalism groups and others have underscored that Rezaian is a very different species, namely a journalist victimized by a cynical, unjustified prosecution (which even barred family from the courtroom).
The notion of a deal is the latest theory about the supposedly inevitable liberation of Rezaian, who was taken more than a year ago and was a defendant in a secretive “espionage” trial whose verdict is still not announced publicly.
Bright people assumed he would be released long ago. Bright people assumed that he’d be part of the international nuclear negotiations with Iran. Then, bright people assumed that Rouhani’s trek to New York for the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly would bring his liberation.
The Iranians said that a verdict would be announced shortly after his closed trial concluded. That, of course, never happened.
Marty Baron, editor of The Washington Post, said in a Sunday night email that he knows no more than what the world knows, especially after the New York appearance and Rouhani’s remarks to journalists and academics.
“I think he genuinely wants this resolved—and always has,” said Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American author-journalist and NBC News contributor who attended one private session with Rouhani.
“My sense is that he is under tremendous pressure on many fronts, and the best he can do to resolve the prisoner issue is to try for a prisoner exchange to mollify the hardliners who would prefer to keep the Americans jailed.”
Letting Rezaian simply go may now be impossible without some act of American reciprocity, Majd says, since the government has gone overboard in constantly referring to him as a spy (it’s the same with hard-line Iranian media).
Rouhani doesn’t control the judiciary. That’s in the hand of more conservative forces, with whom his relationship is tricky.
The best Rouhani might be able to do is “offer that if Jason is released or pardoned, he can deliver (what Iran considers innocent) Iranians in American jails back home. The state of politics in Iran is that it is complicated, and we are not talking about an absolute dictatorship.”
President Barack Obama, of course, has the power of pardon. Some Iranians now in U.S. jails have served parts of their sentences for violating the international economic sanctions against Iran. They might be potential fodder in cutting an agreement.