President Obama got angry at his press conference today when CBS White House correspondent Major Garrett asked him why four Americans were left behind in the deal with Iran.
“As you well know there are four Americans in Iran, three held on trumped-up charges,” Garrett said, in referencing to prisoners Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian, and Bob Levinson, who was taken by unidentified captors eight years ago.
“Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?” he asked.
Garrett also asked if the deal left the Joint Chiefs hanging out to dry in “last-minute capitulation” on ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.
“I’ve got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am content, as I celebrate, with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails?” Obama replied. “Major, that’s nonsense. And you should know better.”
“I’ve met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody’s content. And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.”
Obama has never even publicly mentioned the name of Hekmati, a Marine veteran held for almost four years.
“Now, if the question is why we did not tie negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly Iran realizes, you know what? Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals. Makes it much more difficult for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent in some fashion on the nuclear deal,” Obama continued.
“And by the way if we had walked away from the nuclear deal we’d still be pushing them just as hard to get these folks out. That’s why those issues are not connected. But we are working every single day to try to get them out.”
Hekmati, a decorated Marine veteran who served in the Iraq war, was visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 when he was seized and sentenced on trumped-up espionage charges.
Washington Post reporter Rezaian, who has reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home. He is facing espionage charges and had a closed-door hearing Monday while the final details of the agreement were being worked out.
Idaho pastor 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 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. He is the longest-held U.S. hostage in history.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Obama’s answer got to the core problem of an agreement with an “outlaw regime,” telling CNN that the release of the American hostages should have been a precondition to talks.