Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote Secretary of State John Kerry today to remind him that “American citizens remain unjustly imprisoned by the Iranian regime even as you have finalized a nuclear deal with Iran,” and urging him “to use every tool at your disposal to secure their freedom” unconditionally.
“It is unacceptable that the United States has reached a final agreement with Iran while innocent Americans languish in the most brutal conditions of Iranian jail cells. I am profoundly disappointed that the agreement with Iran did not ensure the unconditional release of American citizens: Jason Rezaian, Pastor Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, as well as any progress in obtaining information about the fate of my constituent former FBI agent Robert Levinson,” Rubio wrote.
“A day before you signed the nuclear deal with the Iranian regime, Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent, was subjected to a closed-door hearing with only his Iranian lawyer permitted in the courtroom. This hearing ended inconclusively and Mr. Rezaian remains in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison facing numerous trumped up charges including espionage.”
Abedini, Rubio reminded Kerry, has been imprisoned by the Iranians since September 2012. “In January 2013, Pastor Abedini received an eight year sentence in prison, his ‘crime’: practicing Christianity. He was charged with undermining Iranian national security by creating a network of Christian house churches and charged with attempting to convert Iranian Muslim youth to Christianity. He has been tortured, moved between some of Iran’s most severe prisons, and has been denied any right to appeal his case,” the senator said.
“Amir Hekmati, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was arrested in Iran while visiting his family in August 2011. The Iranian government convicted Mr. Hekmati of espionage and sentenced him to death. Fortunately, his death sentence was overturned by an appeals court in March 2012. However, he was convicted of aiding a hostile nation and received a 10-year sentence.”
Rubio added that “in addition to torturing and imprisoning Americans, the Iranian regime still refuses to provide any information regarding the whereabouts of former FBI Agent Robert Levinson. Mr. Levinson disappeared in 2007 while on a trip in Iranian territory.”
“I am disturbed by how the administration has missed an opportunity to make the freedom of these Americans a priority in your negotiations with Iran,” he said. “Despite your claims that these negotiations were only about Iran’s nuclear program, Iran successfully obtained non-nuclear concessions from these negotiations that will aid its efforts to sow terror and instability throughout the Middle East.”
Kerry said on MSNBC this morning “there was not a meeting that took place, not one meeting that took place — believe me, that’s not an exaggeration — where we did not raise the issue of our American citizens being held.”
The State Department stressed throughout negotiations that the fate of the Americans was a sidelines conversation and not included in nuclear talks.
“And in fact, it was the last conversation that I had with the foreign minister at the Vienna Center, right before we went out publicly. I talked to him the last time about that,” Kerry added.
“We remain very, very hopeful that Iran will make a decision to do the right thing and to return those citizens to the United States, and we are consistently, constantly, even now, continuing to work on that.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday granted Eid al-Fitr pardons to 930 prisoners, according to Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency. No Americans were among those released.