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The two American hostages in Iran, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, have been sentenced to eight years in prison. They have the right to appeal in the coming weeks and presumably will do so, which provides the Iranian regime with one more chance set them free.
We can only hope that the Obama Administration uses these weeks energetically, asking any government with influence in Tehran to intervene and letting the ayatollahs know that there will be a price to pay for the continued incarceration of the two young men on trumped-up charges of spying. This of course requires that the White House come to grips with the need to impose such costs, something that won’t be easy.
If the appeal works or clemency is granted and the two men are released, the Administration will retrospectively appear to have handled this hostage crisis reasonably well. That is what all Americans have to hope for. But if this does not work and a month from now they remain in prison, we will know that the low-key, "quiet diplomacy" approach has finally failed. The White House will then have to tell the American people how it plans to free them now, or a least how it plans to impose sufficient costs on Iran to achieve three goals: increase the chances that they will be freed soon, make it far less likely that Iran will seize American hostages again, and show other criminal regimes that the price for unjust imprisonment of Americans is too high to pay.