August 17, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10757

Criticism In Saudi Press Of U.S.-Iran Prisoner Exchange Deal: It Is A Dangerous Deal Detrimental To The Region; The U.S. Is Selfish And Unreliable

August 17, 2023
Iran, Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 10757

It has recently been reported that the U.S. and Iran have agreed on a prisoner exchange deal, as part of which the U.S. will also release several billion dollars of Iranian funds frozen outside the country.  According to the reports, the deal was brokered by Qatar and Oman, and the funds will be transferred to the central bank of Qatar, which will be tasked with ensuring that they are used only for humanitarian purposes, such as purchasing food and medicines.[1]

Articles published in the Saudi media in response to these reports bluntly criticized the agreement and the American conduct. They called the deal a dangerous move that will further harm the region and even lead to "disaster," since it improves Iran's economic situation and allows it to make headway both in its regional expansion and in its advance towards nuclear weapons. The authors accused the U.S. of selfish, manipulative, dishonest and unreliable conduct, and of lack of transparency with its allies, who were not informed about the details of this deal, many aspects of which are unknown.  Some claimed that the U.S. made this deal in order to achieve peace and quiet vis-à-vis Iran, in order to focus on the upcoming electoral season in the U.S. and on helping Ukraine in its war with Russia. Others wondered why the U.S. did not suffice with a prisoner swap, but felt the need to "reward Iran's problematic conduct" by giving it access to billions of dollars.

The following are translated excerpts from these articles:

Saudi Journalist: The U.S. Kept Its Allies In The Dark About This Deal, And May Also Do So In Nuclear Deal With Iran

Saudi journalist Tariq Al-Homayed, the former editor of the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily and currently a columnist for this daily, attacked the deal and criticized the U.S. for failing to inform its allies about it in advance. Wondering how it will be possible to trust the U.S. to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, he expressed fear that, if President Biden is reelected, the policy of appeasing Iran will continue, which will eventually lead to its attainment of nuclear weapons and to a disaster in the region. The following are excerpts from the English version of his column, published in the daily’s English-language edition:[2]

He wrote: "The shock [waves] of the "hostage diplomacy" between the United States and Iran, involving a $6 billion disbursement from Washington to Tehran in exchange for the release of five US hostages, continue to echo, not only within our region but also across Europe and the United States… The crux of the debate revolves around a fundamental question: Would this deal, or the ransom, encourage Iran to take more hostages and use them as bargaining chips for the released funds?

"The situation, however, is considerably more intricate. The danger of this “hostage diplomacy” lies in the timing, the approach, and the role of the allies in the nuclear agreement. This [prisoner exchange] deal is the result of a clear scenario that warns us of what awaits us in the nuclear file... Why? The reason is that Washington has entered the electoral mood, or the season of madness, as it is called there. Therefore, the US Administration has currently no intention of negotiating with Iran over the nuclear file, while Tehran has taken important steps that enable it to build nuclear weapons.

"What happened, according to several sources, is that Washington decided to freeze the nuclear negotiations until after the elections, and now decided to achieve electoral gains with Tehran, translated into the release of the hostages, while warning Iran that any continuation of the nuclear project might be met with Israeli military action.

"The deal was completed, and money was provided to free the hostages - who [have] not arrived in their country as of writing the article - but without full transparency with the parties involved in the nuclear negotiations, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). If the international parties involved in the nuclear file were not aware of the “hostage diplomacy” agreement, how will they be informed of the course of negotiations, if those are resumed after the elections?

"How can the American negotiator be trusted when the world does not know what happened to the special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley? Why was he investigated? For what reasons was he ousted?...[3] What is the reason behind this democratic lenience, since Obama’s tenure, with Iran, whether by freeing up funds or rushing to negotiate according to Tehran’s conditions, despite its continuous procrastination?

"Therefore, the fear now is that the process of liberating the American hostages through this “hostage diplomacy” deal is just a rehearsal for US post-election negotiations with Iran, especially if President Biden wins another presidential term. Democratic leniency towards Iran is expected to increase, since the president is in a second term and has anything to lose. This would affect the future of the region, and even its reality and stability, because it would mean proliferation of nuclear weapons – a true disaster…"[4]

Writer On Saudi Website: The U.S.'s Stance On Iran's Nuclear Program Is Manipulative

In an article published August 13, 2023 on the Saudi website, Egyptian journalist and political commentator Emile Amin likewise came out against the U.S.-Iran deal. He stated that, by releasing Iranian funds, the U.S. was rewarding Iran for its problematic behavior. Attacking the U.S. and calling it unreliable and manipulative, he wrote: 

"Can the recent American-Iranian 'exchange deal' be called a mystery deal, since what we know about it is less than what we don't know?... Washington and Tehran will both release several hostages they are holding – five Iranians detained in the U.S. in exchange for five Americans detained in Tehran. So far, the equation seems simple and clear... But the first sign on the path to mystery is the large sum of money that the U.S. will release from Iran's frozen funds outside the country: some $10 billion, which raises the question of why. It is at this point that the recent American-Iranian deal takes on different, metaphysical, proportions. Because Tehran looks like the clear victor, given that these considerable funds are flowing [to it] as a sort of reward for detaining [the Americans]...

"The relations between Washington and Tehran appear to be confusing everyone... [Only] about a week before the announcement about the mysterious deal, the American navy announced that it was beefing up its presence in the Arabian Gulf region by 3,000 troops and a large number of vessels... The stated justification of the American presence was [the need] to tackle the Iranian threats to shipping in the region, which is important for the transport of petroleum and for international commerce... At the same time, it is [also] impossible to ignore the very advanced state of nuclear enrichment in Iran's nuclear program. It has almost certainly reached 90% [enrichment] – which allows it to attain a nuclear weapon, Iran's great and famous dream.

"One feels confused by the American position vis-à-vis this nuclear program, that threatens the peace of the Gulf region and the Middle East, particularly because this position is manipulative, dishonest, and unstable. In the morning, some American official, sometimes a civilian and sometimes a military official, caution and warn the world that the Iranians are just weeks, not [even] a month, away from obtaining nuclear weapons. The next day, or the day after... come the [American] announcements that [Iran] still has a long way to go [to obtain] nuclear weapons of mass destruction. One day, the White House shouts that all options are on the table in order to put an end to Iran's nuclear program, and that Washington will in no way allow the ayatollahs to have nuclear weapons with which to threaten everyone... and the next day, we hear a different tune, [and they] state that America prefers a solution of peace and negotiation with the Iranians. The whole world, and particularly the people of the Middle East, ask: 'Which American should we believe?...'

"The question is, did Washington release Iran's frozen $10 billion as a gift to Iran in advance of its completion of [its] nuclear program, or perhaps as a gift to the IRGC as a reward for attacking ships sailing in the Arabian Gulf? Or is it [an attempt] to encourage hostage-taking and establish a new method that is welcomed by the kidnappers, since [with this method] they can obtain billions [of dollars?]...

"It has become clear to all that there are actually relations between these two countries, which appear, on the [political] scene, to be deadly enemies, but events prove that they are not... Some will say that Washington will determine the limits and the mechanism for the use of the funds it releases, so that Tehran will not use them for any purpose but the humanitarian purpose for which they are intended. This statement insults the intelligence of those who are well-versed in international relations...

"Furthermore, it is very clear that Washington is trying as best it can to tranquilize or anesthetize the Iranian [nuclear] issue until the Russia-Ukraine crisis passes. Some think that the release of the Iranian funds is [just such an attempt] at anesthesia or bribery [of Iran] to prevent [it] from launching a conflict with the Americans at this time – particularly after Washington realized that, behind the scenes, Russia is likely to push Iran to lay a military trap for Washington in the Arabian Gulf, which would disrupt the [American] aid to Kyiv and allow Moscow to end its ever-lengthening crisis with the Ukrainians..."[5]

Article In Saudi Daily: The U.S.-Iran Deal Will Lead To More Damage In The Middle East

In his August 13, 2023 column in the Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Lebanese journalist and commentator Iyad Abu Shaqra stated that the Arabs would benefit not at all from the agreement, and that the U.S. was looking out for its own interests, with no regard for theirs. He argued that the released funds would indeed be used for humanitarian purposes, but would enable Iran to allocate other funds from its budget to the IRGC and its militias, to the detriment of the region.

Abu Shaqra wrote:  "It has been leaked that Washington and Tehran have agreed on a deal in which Tehran will release five American prisoners, and Washington, in return, will release some $6 billion of Iran's frozen funds. Official American elements hurried to downplay the significance of this deal, as usual, but [the truth is that] it is important and dangerous for several reasons, chief of them the following:   

"1. [The deal] proves that Washington is always willing to hold dialogue with the Iranian regime in order to promote its interests, regardless of the broader regional picture in the Middle East. In this context, Washington is determined to ignore or disregard the existence of an entire Iranian strategy aimed at taking over the Mashreq [the Arab countries in the eastern Mediterranean Basin]…

"2. Even if Washington is well aware of this strategy and its details,  it is eager to harness it to its own private plan. This plan is based on Arab normalization with Israel regardless of who is in power in Tel Aviv, what their ideology and priorities are, and how willing they are to coexist with their surroundings. Therefore, as far as Washington is concerned, the more extremist Tehran becomes and the greater its aggression and expansionist [ambitions], the more effective it is as a means to blackmail the Arabs and push them towards normalization with Israel, which is perceived  as a refuge and source of assistance [against Iran].    

"3. Iran [dares to] exacerbate [the situation], employ blackmail and disrespect its rivals because it knows the real stance of the three global superpowers towards it: Russia is an important ally in the domain of arms and interests… China is a partner and a vital political, security and commercial  ally of Tehran's… And as for the U.S., it is an old strategic ally and there are deep understandings between the sides.  America's silence throughout the decades enabled Iran to develop its nuclear program, until we reached the point that negotiations are only about the degree to which it may enrich [uranium]…

"4. Even Israel, which employs against Iran an arrogant [policy] of warnings and threats and of bombing trucks transporting weapons, knows how much it benefits from the aggression of the Iranian leaders and the IRGC as long as their behavior remains within certain limits that have been tacitly agreed on. As part of this, Tel Aviv takes care to preserve the Syrian regime on its northern border, and reaches understandings with the Lebanese Hizbullah about the maritime and land border [between Israel and Lebanon], while this organization tightens its grip over Lebanon and accelerates [its attempts] to change its political, economic, cultural and demographic character.  

"In light of the above, I believe that the Arabs will not derive any benefit from the deal, which will end, whether we like it or not, with funding the Iranian occupation in our region and strengthening the [Iranian] infiltration of our societies to destroy them from within.

"Some will say, 'No, such deals are subject to terms and strict oversight mechanisms on all levels. The unfrozen funds will be supervised, to make sure that they go to humanitarian purposes and not military ones.' Perhaps this is what the negotiators, the do-gooders who promoted the negotiations, intended. But America's provision of $6 billion [to Iran] for 'humanitarian purposes' will free up the same sum in the Iranian budget, which will surely go to the warehouses of the IRGC and to the Iran's militias everywhere. Hence, the regional picture is bleak, without any glimmer of hope…"[6]




[1],, August 10, 2023;, August 14, 2023; Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), August 12, 2023. It should be noted that, according to the Western media, the funds to be released are $6 billion frozen in South Korea, but according to the Iranian media, there is also an additional sum of $4 billion frozen in Iraq.

[2], August 13, 2023. The translation has been lightly edited for clarity.

[3] Malley was the lead U.S. negotiator on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action during the Obama administration, and in 2021 was appointed by President Biden as U.S. special envoy to Iran. On June 29, 2023 he was placed on unpaid leave as special envoy to Iran and his security clearance was suspended amid an investigation into possible mishandling of classified material (, June 29, 2023).

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 13, 2023.

[5], August 13, 2023.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 13, 2023.

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