It’s always tough for Iran to part with hostages, especially American hostages. On balance, they’d prefer to keep them or kill them. Plus, releasing hostages always exacerbates the internal battles that have always been a central feature of totalitarian regimes. In the current case, the vicious battles between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad–and their allies and foot soldiers–makes things even harder. If Khamenei says “no” then Ahmadinejad will shout “yes” and vice versa.
So it’s a mess. The real internal debate revolves around two questions: the price, and broader strategic objectives. In this instance, the strategy has to do with Iraq, where the Iranian regime has changed its policy. Instead of attacking American targets with renewed savagery, Khamenei–and his top consigliere, Ali Akbar Velayati–has decided to lie low until we’re gone at year’s end. You can see this from Mokhtadah Sadr’s recent declaration that his killers must not go after Americans. The hostages are pieces in this game, which probably means that they will eventually be released. But the internal situation is so messy that you never know; the ayatollahs can blow themselves up, so to speak.
As to price, I have no information. Hell, we don’t even know the details of the release of the first hostage. No journalist, so far as I know, has asked the obvious question: whose plane flew her out? Who paid the half million dollar ransom? who paid for the aircraft? and so forth.
But no, those questions, like the other one–how are our dealings with Iran really conducted, and by whom?–don’t seem to interest our scribblers.