President Obama today declared at the White House that “Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb” and that their “tireless” negotiations paid off with several American hostages coming home.
Obama’s Cabinet Room statement came a day after the administration announced the lifting of sanctions on Iran for Implementation Day of the nuclear deal as well as the prisoner swap: seven to Iran, five to the U.S. The administration is claiming the fifth American, student Matthew Trevithick, was released not as part of the swap but as a goodwill gesture by Iran.
Obama called the clemency granted to six Iranian–Americans and one Iranian serving sentences or awaiting trial “a reciprocal humanitarian gesture,” and asserted none of them were “charged with terrorism or any violent offenses.” They were, however, involved in networks procuring illegal components for Iran deemed damaging to national security by the Justice Department and in one case hacked a defense contractor to steal millions in proprietary software.
“And their release is a one-time gesture to Iran given the unique opportunity offered by this moment and the larger circumstances at play,” he said. “And it reflects our willingness to engage with Iran to advance our mutual interests, even as we ensure the national security of the United States.”
“So, nuclear deal implemented. American families reunited. The third piece of this work that we got done this weekend involved the United States and Iran resolving a financial dispute that dated back more than three decades. Since 1981, after our nations severed diplomatic relations, we’ve worked through a international tribunal to resolve various claims between our countries. The United States and Iran are now settling a longstanding Iranian government claim against the United States government. Iran will be returned its own funds, including appropriate interest, but much less than the amount Iran sought,” Obama said.
That payout to Iran from the United States? $1.7 billion.
Secretary of State John Kerry said today that the settlement is $400 million debt and $1.3 billion in interest dating back to the Islamic revolution. That’s separate from the sanctions windfall Iran will receive.
“For the United States, this settlement could save us billions of dollars that could have been pursued by Iran,” Obama claimed. “So there was no benefit to the United States in dragging this out. With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well.”
The president then acknowledged a bit of Iran’s other bad behavior, such as “a violation of its international obligations” with illegal ballistic missile tests.
“But today’s progress — Americans coming home, an Iran that has rolled back its nuclear program and accepted unprecedented monitoring of that program — these things are a reminder of what we can achieve when we lead with strength and with wisdom; with courage and resolve and patience,” Obama said. “America can do — and has done — big things when we work together. We can leave this world and make it safer and more secure for our children and our grandchildren for generations to come.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called it “a huge relief that these Americans are finally coming home,” and noted that “all of them should have been unconditionally released a long time ago — period.”
“Instead, a disturbing pattern is emerging where the Obama administration is willing to negotiate the release of spies, terrorists and now criminals. I fail to see how this trend will improve the long-term security of the United States and its citizens,” Royce said.
“The Obama administration will need to answer why this policy won’t encourage terrorist groups and regimes to step up their efforts to target Americans. And the Iranians still need to answer for Robert Levinson, an American citizen who has been missing in Iran since 2007.”
The Levinson family was still on a heartbreaking tweetstorm Sunday using the haghtag #WhatAboutBob.
“Let me just say Bob Levinson is still missing,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said this morning on CBS’ Face the Nation. “The Iranians know where he is or we believe they do. And they’re not being cooperative about that. We should not forget Mr. Levinson and his situation.”
Obama said what he’s said before: that Iran “has agreed to deepen our coordination as we work to locate Robert Levinson — missing from Iran for more than eight years.”
“Even as we rejoice in the safe return of others, we will never forget about Bob,” he said. “Each and every day, but especially today, our hearts are with the Levinson family, and we will not rest until their family is whole again.”
Iran is also holding on to a couple more hostages: Since the Iran nuclear deal was inked last year, one American citizen, businessman Siamak Namazi, and one permanent U.S. resident, IT expert Nizar Zakka, were arrested by Iran. Iran’s Fars News Agency said they kept Namazi out of the deal because his charges were “not political.”
Zakka, a Lebanese-American, works in Washington as secretary-general of the Dupont Circle-based Ijma3 group, which lobbies for the information and communications technology industry in the Middle East. He last tweeted on Sept. 9 about Internet freedom and free expression.
Zakka received an invitation on Sept. 11 from Iran’s vice president for Women and Family Affairs to attend the 2nd International Conference & Exhibition on Women in Sustainable Development, titled “Entrepreneurship & Employment.” After the conference, while he was trying to return home to D.C., he was seized.
“For decades, our differences with Iran meant that our governments almost never spoke to each other. Ultimately, that did not advance America’s interests. Over the years, Iran moved closer and closer to having the ability to build a nuclear weapon,” Obama declared today.
“But from Presidents Franklin Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, the United States has never been afraid to pursue diplomacy with our adversaries. And as president, I decided that a strong, confident America could advance our national security by engaging directly with the Iranian government. We’ve seen the results.”