Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken told PJ Media the U.S. government is pushing “every single day” on the sidelines of nuclear negotiations for Iran to release the U.S. citizens held hostage in the country.
Jake Sullivan, who is reportedly advising the Obama administration on the Iran negotiations and kick-started the process while at the State Department, declined to comment on the talks. Sullivan is an adviser to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and a likely pick for national security advisor in a Clinton administration.
“We work on that every single day. This has been the only other issue that we have consistently raised even in the context of these talks because we’ve tried to make sure that these talks were focused exclusively on the nuclear program,” Blinken said after his speech at the Center for a New American Security annual conference.
“But the only other issue we have consistently raised with the Iranians is the American citizens who are being unjustly held in Iran. And so there’s an intense focus on that and, as I mentioned in my remarks, we’re determined to bring them home,” he added.
The Americans being held captive in Iran are Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian. Bob Levinson went missing off the coast of Iran eight years ago and his family received photos and video of the former FBI agent in captivity.
Blinken told the audience a comprehensive deal has not been reached yet.
“We may not get one if we can’t get to where we need to be on some of the core issues,” he said. “But we continue to believe that the very best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is through a verified, negotiated agreement that resolves the international community’s concerns about Iran and as a practical matter, makes it impossible for Iran to develop the fissile material for a weapon without us being able to see it and to stop it.”
Blinken set out to correct the “myths” floating around about the negotiations.
“The deal that we’re working to achieve will not expire. There will not be a so-called ‘sunset.’ Different requirements of the deal would have different durations, but some – including Iran’s commitment to all of its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, including the obligation not to build a nuclear weapon, as well as the tough access and monitoring provisions of the Additional Protocol – those would continue in perpetuity,” he said.
If Iran fails to comply with the international community’s requirements, Blinken assured the public the U.S. government would know about it right away.
He said the government would have “plenty of time to respond diplomatically” or by other means if necessary.
“Most of the sanctions would be suspended – not ended – for a long period of time, with provisions to snap back automatically if Iran reneges on its commitments,” he said.
Sullivan was part of a panel discussion at the conference before Blinken’s remarks. According to the Associated Press, Sullivan has played a key role in the Obama administration’s negotiations over the Iran deal. He avoided questions about the talks and Clinton’s campaign.
“I was just doing the event. I’m not doing any reporters’ questions,” he told PJ Media, referencing the potential Iran deal. “I’m a private citizen so that’s why I don’t want to do any interviews on the subject, because at the moment I’ll just leave it to the team who is negotiating and let them do both — the negotiating and the public talking.”
Sullivan was also asked how Clinton should differentiate herself from Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), who is gaining in recent polls.
“You are good. Honestly, I give you lots of credit for persistence. I’m all for that, but I honestly came to the panel and not to do any interviews so I’ll leave it at that,” he said.