June 2, 2015
The Wall Street Journal
Felicia Schwartz

Some lawmakers say they won't support nuclear deal with Iran if four Americans remain detained

WASHINGTON—U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday questioned Tehran’s ability to adhere to the terms of a nuclear agreement so long as four Americans continue to be held in detention in Iran.

Several lawmakers said they wouldn’t support an international nuclear deal with Iran if the Americans remained there. Their comments came at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday in which relatives testified about four Americans held or missing in Iran.

“Any deal with Iran is dead on arrival that doesn’t include the release of these prisoners—that’s what we should say,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.).

Mr. Salmon and Rep. Randy Weber (R., Texas) said lawmakers should press President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and others to tie a nuclear agreement to the fate of the Americans who remain in Iran.

“I think Congress should get real serious—no agreement, period, until Iran releases the hostages,” Mr. Weber said. “I just hope that John Kerry, President Obama and everybody on their team that’s in the negotiation phase would quite frankly come to their senses.”

Three Americans, Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini are imprisoned in Iran. Mr. Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, was arrested last summer and later charged with espionage. His closed trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court began last month and is set to reconvene on Monday. Mr. Hekmati, a former U.S. marine, was arrested in January 2012 and sentenced to death later that year for espionage, though his sentence was later reduced to 10 years. Mr. Abedini, a pastor, was arrested in September 2012 for convening a Bible study group and was later sentenced to eight years in prison.

A fourth American, Robert Levinson, disappeared on Iran’s Kish Island in 2007.

The State Department says negotiators raise their cases in every round of nuclear negotiations, but relatives said those discussions aren’t working.

Nagameh Abedini whose husband Saeed has been imprisoned for over three years, said the State Department told her Iran had provided little response to officials’ repeated inquiries.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D., Mich.) said the U.S. should look to Iran to release the hostages as a show of good faith as the negotiations near a final deadline.

“The onus is on Iran to release these Americans if they expect any negotiated agreement or any other engagement with the rest of the world to be taken seriously,” Mr. Kildee said. “The freedom of these innocent Americans should not be exchanged for any concession regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities or any reduction in economic sanctions that have forced them to the table.”

Relatives of those held said the final weeks of negotiations are critical to securing their release.

“These next few weeks is the very crucial time, if we don’t get the Americans out I don’t know when we will have more leverage,” said Mrs. Abedini. She described his torture in prison, including being beaten with a cable on his bare feet. He was placed in solitary confinement most recently in April, a few days after the framework agreement with Iran was reached.

Daniel Levinson, son of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, said his family believed U.S. engagement with Iran offered the best chance to bring his father home and urged negotiators to keep up the pressure as well as take a more aggressive approach.

Ali Rezaian, brother of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, and Sarah Hekmati, sister of former Marine Amir Hekmati also testified at the hearing.

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