The House today passed 391-0 a resolution calling on Iran to free four Americans, as a leading Democrat called it “ludicrous” and “ridiculous” that the administration would negotiate with the Islamic Republic without demanding their release first.
Amir Hekmati, who served as a sergeant in Iraq, was seized while visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 and convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage.
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home.
Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini was convicted in January 2013 of establishing Christian house churches while in the country to set up a government-sanctioned orphanage.
Former FBI agent Bob Levinson went missing off the coast of Iran eight years ago while working as a private investigator. Levinson’s family later received images of him in captivity, though the Iranian government has maintained they don’t know who is holding him.
The resolution introduced by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents Hekmati’s district, reads in part: “Iran should release all detained Americans immediately and provide any information it possesses regarding any Americans that have disappeared within its borders.”
Kildee’s bill went into the vote with an impressive 199 bipartisan co-sponsors.
“These four Americans must be allowed home now,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said on the House floor in the late afternoon debate on the bill. “Can they be counted on to honor the commitments they make at the negotiating table” if they hold Americans, he added. “Call me a skeptic.”
“Let’s not forget this is a regime … where regularly the chant ‘death to America’ is used to rouse the most fervent supporters of the supreme leader,” Royce said.
The ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), called it “just ludicrous” that “just weeks away completing an agreement, our hostages — I can’t think of any other word for them — are being treated so shabbily by the Iranian regime.”
“If this is the way they are treating Americans, how can we rely on them?” he asked, noting the “heartbreaking” stories of the families relayed to the committee recently. “Their cause is our cause; it’s America’s cause.”
“It is ridiculous that our citizens languish in Iranian jails while we negotiate…I cannot imagine having an agreement with Iran that doesn’t release these people — it would be a dereliction of our duty.”
Royce praised Kildee as “a champion for these four Americans and their families.”
“These are individuals,” Kildee reminded his colleagues. “They are not just pawns in a geopolitical struggle between Iran and the rest of the world.”
“Amir has committed no crime yet he continues to sit in that prison in that dark cell,” he said of his constituent, adding there there should be “no disagreement” about the resolution in the House.
While Kildee doesn’t want to see U.S. hostages bartered in any nuclear deal, citing the dangerous precedent it would set, the congressman stressed “it is fair that Congress consider all of Iran’s behavior when considering any arrangement with them.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) demanded to know “why the president has failed to make the release of our Americans his top priority with the regime.”
“Their plea was impassioned,” Smith said of the hearing with the families. “It was heartbreaking and it was very, very motivating.”
“We call on the administration to re-triple their efforts to secure their release.”
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who represents Rezaian’s district, said, “One of the most important things we can do is reaffirm to the regime that the entire world is watching.”
“Each of us here has the solemn responsibility to represent these American citizens,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who represents Levinson’s district.
“Eight years is eight years too long,” Deutch added of his constituent. “We have enormous leverage right now and we must use it.”
“If Iran wants the world to believe what it says at the negotiating table… then it should send these Americans home.”
Engel stressed that “we don’t want these people to remain in jail after there is some kind of agreement with Iran.”
“We shouldn’t stand for this,” he said. “We shouldn’t sit still while this continues.”
Forty-two lawmakers did not show up for the vote.