The State Department’s spokesman told CNN this morning that one reason U.S. hostages weren’t included in the Iran nuclear deal is because it could have made their situation “worse.”
Retired FBI agent Bob Levinson went missing nearly eight years ago, likely taken by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. U.S. Marine veteran Amir Hekmati marks his fourth year behind bars this week. Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini marks his third year in Iranian custody next month. Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was seized more than a year ago and is awaiting a verdict from a closed-door espionage trial.
All have suffered mistreatment while in custody, including torture and new or worsening medical conditions.
Many lawmakers have argued that Iran needed to release the hostages before Washington even sat down at the negotiating table with Iran.
“We wanted to separate the condition of the Americans that are being detained with Iran,” State Department press secretary John Kirby told CNN this morning.
“They need to be home because they need to be home with their families,” Kirby added. “And linking them to the deal might have only made the situation worse for them. So we never missed an opportunity to talk to Iranian leaders about that.”
Hekmati has said he did not want to be included as a swap for concessions, fearing additional hostage-taking by Iran in response, but has criticized administration concessions as Tehran holds — and takes new — Americans.
In a recent letter to Congress, he wrote, “And in the midst of negotiation with Iran over its nuclear program, as Secretary Kerry sits politely with the Iranians, shaking hands and offering large economic concessions to save them from economic meltdown, Jason Rezaian was added to the growing list of American captives, undoubtedly in hopes of milking more concessions from the U.S. government.”
“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 continued in the letter dictated over the phone to his family from prison.
“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. This has been going on far too long.”