Iran’s new hostage

While President Obama has been extending a hand of friendship to the “Islamic Republc of Iran” — the mullahs who hold the Iranian people in bondage — the mullahs have yet to reciprocate. Among Obama’s symbolic acts was his video Valentine to the mullahs. (I wrote about it here.) So far they appear to be unimpressed by anything other than the administration’s weakness.

The mullahs’ latest message to the Obama administration is the conviction and sentencing of Fargo native Roxanna Saberi for spying. Ms. Saberi is a citizen of the United States, though she holds joint American and Iranian citizenship. She is the former Miss North Dakota.

For the past six years Ms. Saberi has been working as a freelance journalist in Iran for organizations including FOX News and the BBC. On Friday Saberi was sentenced to eight years in prison after a secret one-day trial. The trial may have lasted all of 15 minutes. She is being held in Iran’s infamous Evin prison. The BBC story on Saberi’s sentencing is accessible here. CNN has more here.

The Hill’s Bridget Johnson reports the reactions of North Dakota’s (Democratic) Senators Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad to Ms. Saberi’s plight. They have not minced words, characterizing Ms. Saberi’s trial as a shocking miscarriage of justice.

Even the New York Times has condemned the proceedings as “a dangerous farce.” (I know why it’s a farce. But dangerous? The Times seems to think it “dangerous” because it might interrupt the Obama administration’s prospective rapprochement with Iran.)

The Iranian authorities have never released any evidence of espionage. Ms. Saberi’s detention, conviction and sentencing appear to be little more than a sharp stick in the eye of the United States. The reaction of the Obama administration, however, has been incredibly muted. Through spokesman Robert Gibbs, Obama has declared himself “deeply disapointed” in Ms. Saberi’s treatment.

Surely something more is called for, yet one fears how much Obama may be willing to give away in order to save appearances. He has staked a lot of chips on his ability to reorient American relations with the mullahs. In the face of their contemptuous responses to his pleas, he has stressed the virtue of persistence.

The case of Roxana Saberi belies Obama’s “persistent” belief that the Iranian regime is worthy of respect. It shows the ugly face of an expansionist theocratic tyranny using the old-fashioned instruments of repression and fear. Yet Obama shows no evidence of understanding the nature of the regime. Obama’s accommodation of the regime is wrong and his persistence is persistence in error.

UPDATE: Michael Ledeen posted related thoughts on April 10.

JOHN adds: Buried deep in one of the news stories on the U.S.’s “deep disappointment” in Saberi’s conviction was this nugget:

The United States has called the charges against Saberi baseless, and the State Department said Thursday that Iran would gain U.S. good will if it “responded in a positive way” to the case.

This is an odd thing to say; it seems to imply that someone other than Iran was responsible for the “case” in the first place. Nevertheless, Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, responded on cue:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Sunday for fair treatment of US reporter Roxana Saberi, who was sentenced to eight years in jail as a US spy, the state news agency IRNA reported.

In a rare intervention in judicial proceedings, Ahmadinejad said the Tehran prosecutor should examine the case against both Saberi and Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger who has been behind bars since November, IRNA said.

So: Iran takes a hostage; the State Department says Iran will be rewarded if it goes easy on the hostage; Ahmadinejad urges judicial authorities to reconsider. Three predictions: Iran will relieve Ms. Saberi of some or all of her sentence; Iran will be rewarded; American newspapers will praise Obama for his “smart diplomacy.”

The mullahs are playing Obama like a violin.

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