In a move that could complicate the Obama administration's efforts to reach
a nuclear agreement with Iran, three Americans detained in that country
were charged with espionage
. The offense is punishable by death under the country's sharia law. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton rejected the move saying there was no evidence to back the
charges. Commentators in the U.S. have scrambled to
answer the salient question--what does Iran want?
- Praise, writes Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic: "This was inevitable, wasn't it? Iran is going to charge
those three doofus American hitchhikers with espionage. Then we'll
negotiate their release and Bill Clinton will bring them home and we'll
have to call the Iranian government reasonable and compassionate."
- An End to Nuclear Talks, writes Jason Zengerle at The New
Republic: "I think Iran has given Obama its answer." He cites a recent
report by The New York Times' David Sanger detailing concerted efforts
the Obama administration has made to salvage a nuclear deal only to be
shot down repeatedly by Iran's leadership. "And now comes the news that
Iran is charging those three American hikers with espionage. At this
point, it's almost impossible to see how Obama meets his self-imposed end-of-the-year deadline for diplomatic progress with Iran."
- Rapprochement, suggests Scott Peterson
in The Christian Science Monitor, who notes that previously, President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intervened for the release of Roxana Saberi after she was given a stern sentencing. This gives him the chance to step in and appear magnanimous: "The arrest of the hikers could also facilitate
things. If Ahmadinejad intervenes with
a presidential decree, as he did with [Saberi], at least he can pose as
somebody who is in favor of softening tensions."
- Proof the 'Great Satan Exists,' writes Joe Klein
at Time, who believes Iran wants to goad the U.S. into acting more
aggressively toward it: "No doubt, assorted neoconservatives in the
U.S. will want to use this as an excuse to whack the Khamenei-Whomever
government...which will give the regime exactly what it wants and
needs: proof that the Great Satan exists...Want to make the Iranian
leaders uncomfortable? Praise them. Or, at least, don't play into their
need for a satanic enemy."
- Leverage, says Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice: "The three
are essentially now international pawns: of Iran lashing out at the
United States, at Iranian officials for trying to use them for domestic
consumption to raise the spectre of U.S. spies in Iran, or as bargaining
chips to prod Washington in negotiations over issues between the two
- Its Captured Diplomats, suggests a report by Reuters: "Ahmadinejad suggested in an interview with the American television
network NBC in September that the Americans' release might be linked to
the release of Iranian diplomats he said were being held by U.S. troops
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