State Dept.: Kerry 'Simply Misspeaking' by Calling Americans Detained by Iran 'Hostages'

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The State Department today said Secretary of State John Kerry was "misspeaking" when he referred to the four Americans held by Iran as "hostages" -- multiple times.

Lawmakers opposed to the regime in Tehran and advocates for the release of the four Americans -- Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Marine vet Amir Hekmati, pastor Saeed Abedini and retired FBI agent Bob Levinson -- often refer to the four as hostages. All have been held longer than the 1979 U.S. hostages.

At a Boston news conference Tuesday with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and their Australian counterparts, Kerry insisted that “not a meeting went by, literally not a meeting, where we did not raise the issue of our citizens who are being held in Iran.”

"I’m not going to, you know, go backwards except to say that the families themselves of these hostages knew exactly what our strategy was and why it was important not to hold a nuclear agreement hostage to hostages, and in our judgment, it was the right thing to do because it could have complicated both significantly and perhaps have resulted in nothing happening on either.”

Kerry added that “it was the right strategy to pursue.”

“We are continuing, as I say, that dialogue and we call on the government of Iran, whether they’ve had a conviction, with sentence or no sentence, whatever the status is, we call on the government of Iran to release these individuals, to drop all the charges, and to see them reunited with their families here in the United States,” he said.

Asked about those words at today's State Department briefing, press secretary John Kirby said the administration has not changed its policy of referring to the Americans as detainees instead of hostages.

"The word 'hostage' was simply misspeaking. There's no change of policy," Kirby said.

"So neither the secretary nor the administration believed that these Americans are hostages?" a reporter asked.

"We continue to -- we continue to talk about Americans that are being detained in Iran," Kirby replied.

When it was noted that Kerry used "hostage" three times, Kirby said, "I understand. There's no change to our policy."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) charged this week that administration policy on hostage swaps -- trades with the Taliban for Bowe Bergdahl and with Cuba for Alan Gross -- has put the Americans in a similar "heartbreaking" situation with Iran.

"When you do that, you are putting in danger the lives of other Americans," Rubio told Fox. "...Adversaries know that if they can get their hands on an American, they can get something and exchange. It creates an incentive for more countries to do that. And let there be no doubt, that's what Iran is doing."

"There should never have been a deal with Iran for a lot of different reasons, including the long range missile they tested yesterday, including their nuclear ambitions. But one of the reasons there shouldn't have been a deal is because of Pastor Abedini, because of Jason and others that they are holding illegally as hostages, that these guys are playing us at every turn."