Prisoner Swap Could Increase Cooperation Between The United States And Iran

On August 10th, the United States and Iran made an agreement that will allow five Americans detained in Iran to be released in exchange for the release of an unknown number of Iranians imprisoned in the U.S. Three of the American prisoners were arrested for espionage charges, but it is unknown why the other prisoners were detained. Although none of the prisoners from either country have returned home, the American prisoners in Iran were transferred to house arrest, and it is possible the prisoner swap will be finished by the end of October. Additionally, the agreement will allow Iran to receive $6 billion in funds that had been frozen in South Korean banks due to sanctions. It is possible that after the prison swap, there could be negotiations for the U.S. to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.), which could stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Henry Rome, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the prisoner swap was a “key step forward for Washington and Tehran’s efforts to lower tensions as they return to formal nuclear negotiations later this year.” According to the New York Times, Nasrallah Zarei, an Iranian energy expert, said “We pray that the deal today is part of a series of negotiations for a broader agreement that lifts all sanctions and brings relief to the Iranians.”

Iran, along with the China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S. agreed to the J.C.P.O.A. in 2015. The deal allowed Iran to enrich Uranium to 3.67% so it could be used in nuclear power plants, but not for the creation of nuclear weapons. At first, the J.C.P.O.A was effective as Iran did not create highly enriched uranium, and some sanctions on Iran were lifted. However, President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the J.C.P.O.A. because he believed it had not done enough to stop Iran from having nuclear weapons, and increased sanctions on Iran in a “maximum pressure campaign.” After the U.S. withdrew, Iran increased uranium enrichment to 84%, close to the 90% enrichment needed to create nuclear weapons. Although Iran has said it will not create weapons, the enrichment of uranium has increased conflict in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia wants to develop its own nuclear weapons due to concerns about Iran having weapons.

After Joe Biden was elected President, he supported the re-entry of the U.S. to the J.C.P.O.A, but talks to allow the U.S. to rejoin have not started. The Middle East Eye reported that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would support a deal that would allow Iran to enrich uranium to 60%, and let the International Atomic Energy Agency inspect nuclear power plants to verify that no weapons had been developed. Although the 60% uranium enrichment is higher than the 3.67% originally allowed, it is possible the deal would still be effective in preventing Iran from developing weapons of that nature.

Despite Biden’s support for the re-entry of the U.S. to the J.C.P.O.A., there are concerns that if Trump or another Republican wins the 2024 Presidential election, they will withdraw the U.S. from the J.C.O.P.A. again. According to the Arab Center Washington DC, one reason Republicans have opposed lifting sanctions on Iran is because they have sent drones to Russia to use in the Ukraine War. The Biden Administration should encourage Iran to end its support for Russia, as this could cause there to be more bipartisan support for the J.C.P.O.A., and Congress could approve of the U.S. being in the agreement. Although it might be difficult to convince Iran to oppose Russia, the lifting of sanctions could motivate Iran to stop supporting Russia, as Al Jazeera reported the “maximum pressure campaign” caused a two year recession, and increased inflation in Iran to 40%.

Cooperation between the U.S. and Iran decreased after Trump withdrew from the J.C.P.O.A., but the prisoner exchange makes it possible cooperation can increase again. If the U.S. re-enters the J.C.P.O.A., there needs to be bipartisan support for the J.C.P.O.A. so the U.S. will stay in the agreement. If this occurs, it is likely the J.C.P.O.A. will prevent Iran from developing weapons, and decrease conflict in the region.