Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Sunday on CNN that the prisoner swap with Iran was not part of the nuclear deal, but “it simply dovetailed in, and it dovetailed in fairly easily, but it was not linked distinctly.”
When it came under criticism for not retrieving U.S. hostages before any nuclear deal was signed, the Obama administration would say that the Americans held by Iran were a separate issue and not to be linked to the P5+1 deal.
The prisoner swap, and stripping of 14 Iranians wanted on the Interpol list, happened just before the administration signed off on Implementation Day sanctions relief and announced a $1.7 billion settlement to Iran.
Kerry said it just “became convenient” to get hostages, one held four and a half years, back in a swap on the same day.
“It was not linked,” he insisted. “And in the last weeks it just became almost automatic this was all going to happen in one fell swoop. But it was not linked for a year and a half. I guess it was, what, 15 months we had a series of meetings. I thought we had arrived at an agreement.”
When pressed on the links by host Wolf Blitzer, Kerry replied how the swap happened is “moot now. It doesn’t matter.”
The secretary said he didn’t know yet about the torture of Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, and Saeed Abedini, whose families said they were subject to torture including beatings.
“I haven’t had the debrief yet. I honestly don’t know the answer to that. They’re being evaluated at the hospital at Landstuhl. And then they’ll return, and we’ll have the full story,” Kerry said.
Asked if the administration’s delay of new ballistic missile sanctions against Iran to get the hostages back, Kerry said it was “fair to say that we wanted to respect the sensitivity of everything that we were doing.”
“But we made it clear we were going to do it. We made it clear weeks ago. We notified Congress, and we made it clear this was going to happen. We also made it clear at the time.”
Asked if Iran’s regime had truly abandoned its ambition to acquire a nuclear weapon, Kerry replied “the supreme leader agreed in the Iran agreement.”
“It is firmly embraced within the agreement that Iran will never seek a nuclear weapon. And they have embraced a set of verification measures which give us the ability way — I mean, as long as the agreement is in existence — to be able to access sites that are questionable and to be able to enforce this through the IAEA. So we have lost nothing here. We have gained,” he said.
“Have they abandoned their nuclear ambition?” Blitzer pressed.
“They say they have,” Kerry said.
Kerry also claimed he was “extremely upset, frustrated” at the capture of 10 U.S. sailors last week in the Persian Gulf, and footage the Iranians then released of the Americans on their knees with their hands behind their heads. “It was inappropriate. And I made it very, very clear to the Iranians that we needed those people back, and we needed them right away,” he said.
He refused to give an answer on what Iran might have faced if it did not return the sailors.
“Because we have a channel of communication, because we have worked on this nuclear agreement, we were able to resolve this,” he said.
“Twenty years from now, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. And if they start to break out and do, the United States of America will have done something about it, because we’ll know about it,” Kerry predicted. “So I think this deal will stand the test of time.”