US Detainment Of Journalist Escalates Tension With Iran

This past Wednesday, an American journalist working for the Iranian television station Press TV was detained upon her arrival in the United States. Marzieh Hashemi, a Muslim convert living in Iran since 2009, flew into the St. Louis airport to visit her family when she was arrested and transferred to Washington to be held in custody.

According to Press TV, no charges have been filed against Hashemi; however her family gave a statement outlining the harsh and discriminatory treatment she has faced in custody, such as having her headscarf forcibly removed and being refused halal food. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the actions of the United States in a statement given to the Islamic Republic News Agency. He stated that “the custody of Iran’s reporter in the U.S. is highly political and she should be released immediately … the misbehavior of the U.S. government indicates that the U.S. does not abide by any principles protecting rights of those criticizing the system and is now turned to a dangerous country for reporters.”

A spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry went further, blaming President Trump’s administration and claiming that it “is based on racist and discriminatory policies within an apartheid regime.” Five days after Hashemi’s arrest, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington announced that Hashemi was not charged with a crime, but was detained as a material witness for the state. Her family responded to this announcement with confusion, saying that Hashemi should not have been treated so poorly as a witness.

Hashemi’s arrest comes in the wake of President Trump’s decision to back out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, which ensured that all nuclear development in Iran would be monitored in exchange for U.S. nuclear-related sanctions being lifted. President Trump was deeply criticized for the withdrawal by countries such as France and Germany as well as U.S. politicians and Iran itself, who spoke of their disappointment in Trump’s disrespect for international treaties and diplomatic progress, the New York Times reported.

More broadly, the U.S. and Iran currently support opposing sides in several Middle Eastern conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. The contentious relationship between the two countries is causing many to fear that the outcome will be war. Regardless of whether this conflict will escalate to war, the consequences on both sides are already at work. Professor Trita Parsi at Georgetown University commented, “as tensions between the United States and Iran increase, there seems to also be an increasing trend of citizens who may not be involved in anything falling in the crossfire between the two governments.”

The complexity of the situation between Iran and the U.S. has only been complicated by the Trump administration. President Trump has been very vocal about his support for Israel, going so far as to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. Iran is the main supporter of the Hamas, a Palestinian militant group. The distrust that stems from this is a deep-rooted issue will be incredibly difficult to address without resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In spite of these ongoing, underlying issues, the Iran Nuclear Deal was a very positive step for relations between the two countries. Though it was only implemented in 2016, the compromises both countries made indicated a promising future relationship. President Trump’s decision to withdraw not only undid an agreement about sanctions and nuclear power but also unraveled a precedent of compromise and a peaceful relationship. This decision overrides any movements toward peace and cooperation and instead lets distrust and stubbornness take hold of the situation.

Speculation in the face of uncertainty is natural but is not conducive to a peaceful environment. Hashemi’s arrest comes only a week after Iranian confirmation of a detained U.S. citizen arrested while visiting his girlfriend in July, and the U.S. believes there are currently three Americans being held in Iran. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif therefore announced that Hashemi’s detainment was a highly political means of revenge, a dangerous speculation for peace between the countries. Either way, her alleged poor treatment at the facilities have done nothing but fan the flame of the testy relationship between the U.S. and Iran. Both countries are aware of the explosive situation between them and do not acknowledge the situation at hand before reacting in ways that affect one another. While both countries were working to protect their citizens, intentionally or not they were also fuelling further distrust between each other.

While the conflict between Iran and the U.S. is long and complex, steps can be taken to ensure that the situation does not worsen. The Trump administration appears to be utilizing a strategy of fear, hoping threats will convince the Iranian government to give in to U.S. demands. Threats may bring some temporary surrender, but will result in distrust and a desire for retaliation in the long term. Different tactics must be implemented in order to bring a lasting solution to the tension between Iran and the U.S. Foreign policy wise, the U.S. must rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal and show commitment and respect to the agreement they made. In return, Iran should let detained Americans go if there aren’t any charges against them. More education and discussion about international issues would also lead to a more well-rounded view of a situation, for example choosing to frame the conflict between Iran and the U.S. as a conflict that needs resolution instead of a problem that needs to be taken care of. 

Corrine Schmaedeke

An undergraduate at Occidental College studying Politics and History.