Earnest: Iran Has Already 'Suffered' for Holding U.S. Hostages Because They Don't Get to Be as Cozy with Washington

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today that Iran has already "suffered consequences" for holding Americans hostages -- not having warmer relations with Washington.

At today's press briefing, Earnest responded to a letter sent by Marine vet Amir Hekmati, held by Iran since 2011 on trumped-up charges of conspiracy to commit espionage, to congressional leaders.

"While I am thankful that the State Department and the Obama administration has called for my release and that of my fellow Americans, there has been no serious response to this blatant and ongoing mistreatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and they continue on with impunity," Hekmati wrote, noting that "Secretary Kerry sits politely with the Iranians, shaking hands and offering large economic concessions" as they charged another American, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, with espionage.

"As a war veteran who defended our nation in its time of need, I ask that you also work to defend my dignity and that of my fellow Americans by putting in place serious consequences for this serial hostage-taking and mistreatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence for clearly illegal purposes."

The administration has repeatedly said it brings up the cases of Hekmati, Rezaian, Saeed Abedini and Bob Levinson on the sidelines of Iran nuclear talks, but refuses to link the hostages to the nuke deal.

"I don't want to speculate about any possible future action, but I will say something that's similar to what I said before, which is that we continue to be very concerned about the unjust detention of a number of Americans inside of Iran," Earnest vaguely answered after being read the "serious consequences" passage of Hekmati's letter.

"We have made those concerns known in quite public fashion. We've also made those concerns known privately, directly with the Iranian leadership. As recently as a month or two ago, Secretary of State John Kerry, on the sidelines of his nuclear negotiations with his Iranian counterpart, raised his concerns about this unjust detention. So we've made very clear to the Iranians that we're concerned about the treatment of Americans inside of Iran, and that this continues to be a high priority for U.S. foreign policy."

Still, Earnest was pressed on whether the administration believes there should be "serious consequences" for the four American hostages.

"There is no doubt that the unjust detention of Americans in Iran has continued to serve as an impediment to better relations between the United States and Iran. There's no doubt about that," Earnest replied. "So there already have been consequences that Iran has suffered as a result of this. But, again, I'm not going to speculate about any sort of future actions that we may take to further compel the Iranians to release those Americans who are being unjustly detained inside their country."

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said in a joint statement yesterday that Rezaian, who was arrested in July, "is being persecuted because of his profession as a reporter and his American citizenship" and the case "is just the latest example of the true nature of the Iranian regime."

"The Obama administration should demand Mr. Rezaian’s immediate release along with all other Americans wrongfully imprisoned in Iran prior to concluding a nuclear deal with this brutal regime," Rubio and Kirk said.

But House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CNN today that there doesn't need to be a quid pro quo.

"I think they're trying to maintain the solidity of the nuclear negotiations and not have it disrupted by bringing in other issues in the region, as vital as they are," Schiff said. "And also while they want to continue raising these hostage issues, they don't want it to be a chip the Iranians can play. And I think the harder we press them in some respects, the harder the pushback and more the Iranians think this is really valuable, these hostages are valuable, we should keep them because we can exact more from the Americans."