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Congressman: 'Constrain Iran' to Try to Solve 'Complicated Question' of Freeing U.S. Hostages

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a conference in support of Palestinian Intifada in Tehran on Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told PJM that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal has made it harder to bring the U.S. hostages in Iran back to the states.

Iran is holding father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang, technology expert Nizar Zakka, businessman and conservationist Morad Tahbaz, and art dealer Karan Vafadari. California graduate student Robin Shahini has been freed on bail but kept in the country. Bob Levinson, who was detained on Kish Island, Iran, in 2007, is America’s longest-held hostage.

Lieu said Iran is holding them for “no legitimate reason” and it’s time for the hostages to come home.

“I actually wrote a letter to the State Department a few weeks ago asking the State Department to give us an update on the at least six American hostages that Iran is holding. We absolutely need to get them back. They are being held for no legitimate reason and – like North Korea, those hostages were also held for no legitimate reason – so it’s time to bring the hostages home,” Lieu said during an interview prior to ASCAP’s “We Write the Songs” concert in Washington last month at the Library of Congress.

The bipartisan letter, which was addressed to then-Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan, said the U.S. “has a moral responsibility to devote resources to these hostages and make their return a priority.” A series of questions for the State Department are included in the letter, which Lieu co-authored with House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and other members of Congress.

“What specific tools are being considered to secure the release of detained Americans and permanent U.S. residents? Does the Administration require any new authorities from Congress to utilize these tools?” the lawmakers asked. “What is the Administration’s strategy for disincentivizing and deterring foreign governments, particularly Iran, from taking Americans and permanent U.S. residents hostage in the future?”

Lieu was asked what steps he wants to see the administration take to get the hostages back in the aftermath of the Iran deal exit.

“That’s a very good and complicated question. Well, first what we need to do is to make sure we constrain Iran. They are doing terrible things across the Middle East. They are funding terrorist groups,” he said. “They are doing bad things to their own people, so we need to do everything we can to mitigate their malignant behavior and then try to work with them on returning these hostages that should not be held there at all.”

Lieu said he would not have advised Trump to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran.

“But now that we are out of the deal, we should focus on how we can constrain Iran,” he said.

Trump pulled out of the planned summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un before signaling Friday that he intended for the June 12 summit to go forward.

“I previously served on active duty under U.S. Pacific Command and I know full well the U.S. has exactly zero good military options in North Korea – that’s why I support diplomacy. I’m pleased it has taken center stage,” Lieu told PJM. “I support the president going to the summit.”