Subject to a five million dollar bounty from the American government,Saif al-Adl walked free of Iranian custody while Americans were negotiating the Iran deal. A senior member of the Shura Council, al Qaeda’s leadership organization, al-Adl had taken control of the organization following the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US Navy SEALs in Pakistan. Nor was he alone. In all five members of al Qaeda’s top leadership were released by Iran this year in exchange for a kidnapped diplomat of theirs in Yemen.
According to a New York Times report, CIA veteran Cynthia Storer credited al-Adl as a “founding father” of al Qaeda, and one of the most important figures for holding the organization together during troubled times. Retired LT. General Michael Flynn, former head of the DIA, described his release as a “shot of energy” for the terrorist organization that attacked the United States on 9/11 and sparked America’s longest war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, The Long War Journal reports that al Qaeda has been taking steps to ensure that the organization is ready to reintroduce al-Adl as a leading figure.
The US administration has been under fire from critics for failing to tie the release of American hostages to the extraordinarily generous deal it negotiated with the Iranian regime. The deal with al Qaeda shows that Iran is susceptible to negotiations for hostages, and suggests that the American hostages could have been obtained in return for the vast package of concessions made by the American administration. Administration officials have suggested that they were concerned that Iran would use the hostages as leverage to obtain new benefits from the United States late in the game. However, even without raising the hostage issue, Iran was able to demand massive last-minute concessions on heavy arms embargoes as well as ballistic missiles.
A recent interview with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister suggests that American negotiators misread Iran’s negotiating interests from the beginning, mistaking Iran’s chief interest as being relief from American-led sanctions. In fact, what Iran wanted was international approval for its uranium enrichment process. Because of this failure to understand its opponent’s position, the US State Department gave away the thing Iran really wanted early in the negotiations process, and then proceeded to negotiate as if the sanctions were the real issue to be resolved. As a result, Iran was able to walk away with what it had sought to obtain, as well as a substantial signing bonus for agreeing to take the deal granting its wishes.
The administration has elected to proceed “aggressively” with implementation of the deal in spite of this new evidence. Citing the terms of the Corker-Cardin law, the administration declared that Congress’ window for review of the deal has passed. US Secretary of State John F. Kerry appointed a career foreign-service officer, Stephen D. Mull, to oversee American implementation of the agreement. The President himself has begun writing waivers for companies who would be in technical violation of the sanctions under US law until the end of the year, when sanctions expire.
In making this move, the administration appeared to defy the arguments of Senator Ted Cruz and others that the Corker-Cardin law’s window has never started because of the administration’s refusal to turn over the secret side deals between the IAEA and Iran as the Corker-Cardin law requires. The administration seems set upon a showdown with its opponents over this issue, as its opponents hold that the Obama administration is in defiance of a law that the President himself signed, and is now proceeding as if the law it defied authorized its current behavior. It is unclear at this time how this basic contradiction between the administration and its opponents will be resolved.