Senate Passes 90-0 Resolution Demanding Iran Release Americans

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The Senate lent strong support today to a simply worded resolution calling on Iran to let four Americans come home.

The bipartisan resolution from Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) passed 90-0.

It states that it's the policy of the United States that "the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian, and cooperate with the United States Government to locate and return Robert Levinson; and the United States Government should undertake every effort using every diplomatic tool at its disposal to secure their immediate release."

Washington Post bureau chief Rezaian, a California native who reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home. His wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a reporter for UAE English-language newspaper The National, was also detained and released in October. Word came last month that Rezaian will go on trial for espionage charges.

Marine vet Hekmati was seized while visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011, Abedini was convicted in January 2013 for establishing Christian house churches, and 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 the former FBI agent.

Levinson's senator, Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), noted in a floor speech today that "if the government of Iran really wanted to help, it could."

"There's somebody in Iran who can produce the facts if he wanted to, and that's the supreme leader," Nelson said, asking that Levinson finally be brought home to his wife and seven children.

"That is what humanity would absolutely require," the senator added.

Risch, whose constituent is Pastor Abedini, said his offense "was being Christian and pursuing Christianity in a country where this is not permitted." The regime, he added, "knows no shame."

"He's done absolutely nothing that is a threat to the Iranian people… and he should be released," said Risch. "Iran thinks it elevates its position in the world by doing these kinds of things."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who represents the Hekmati family, noted the Iraq war veteran is a "patriotic American ... who served his country honorably and bravely."

"It's frightening, it's deplorable, it's outrageous and he needs to come home now," Stabenow said. "This resolution is a clear message to the Iranian government."

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) tried to get an amendment added to the Iran nuclear agreement review bill requiring the release of the American hostages, but his amendment was not allowed a vote after a veto threat from President Obama.

He was a co-sponsor of Risch's resolution.

“It is simply unacceptable that after two years of U.S.-Iran negotiations, Iranian officials continue to hold four American citizens as prisoner without any real cause,” Blunt said in a statement after the vote. “As I’ve long said, we should do everything we can to bring these American citizens home, and this vote demonstrates that my colleagues agree. I believe President Obama can and must do more to secure the release of these American prisoners from Iran, and I won’t stop fighting until we bring them home.”

The top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), tied today's vote to last week's 98-1 passage of the Iran nuclear bill.

"As negotiations continue regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program, we cannot forget the plight of these three detained American citizens, and one missing American," Cardin said. "This strong vote demonstrates yet again that on the subject of the Iranian government, the Senate speaks loudly and with one voice."

In the lower chamber, Hekmati's congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), said that unified voice in Congress is important.

Iran says it seeks to reengage other world nations, and the world is now watching and waiting to see if their words will be matched by actions. Iran can act today to release Amir and the other American political prisoners they hold.”