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June 18, 2015

House Resolution Calling for Release of US Detainees in Iran Passes Unanimously

Washington, DC – A resolution calling for the return of all Americans imprisoned or missing in Iran unanimously passed the House of Representatives on Monday

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), the resolution highlights the cases of Former Marine Sgt. Amir Hekmati and Pastor Saeed Abedini, who have been detained in Iran for years; Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post Tehran correspondent who has been detained for nearly a year on vague charges and is currently facing trial; and former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in 2007 while visiting Iran’s Kish Island, although his current whereabouts are unknown. The families of the imprisoned and missing Americans recently testified before a House committee on the plight of their loved ones.

Representatives Dan Kildee and Jared Huffman (D-CA) spoke on the House floor in support of the resolution and to call on Iranian authorities to release the lawmakers’ respective constituents, Hekmati and Rezaian. They emphasized that the administration should push for the release of the American detainees as a sideline conversation during the nuclear negotiations, but not as a precondition to any deal. This has been the administration’s approach as Secretary of State John Kerry has consistently brought up their cases in one-on-one conversations with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif. 

In contrast, several lawmakers used debate on the measure to argue against ongoing, multilateral negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, demanding that Iran release the Americans before any final deal is struck. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) all suggested that a nuclear deal with Iran should be contingent upon the release of the Americans, which would risk undermining opportunities to both reach an agreement with Iran and, potentially, help secure the release of the Americans. Royce and Engel, who head the House Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested the detention of Americans was proof of the untrustworthiness of the “rogue regime” in Tehran and called it a sign that Iran would not abide by the terms of a nuclear agreement. 

Kildee cautioned that lawmakers must “not conflate the freedom of these Americans with the items that are being negotiated regarding the nuclear capabilities of Iran.” Many believe the hardliners in Iran, who oppose any rapprochement with the U.S., are using these arrests as a way to derail nuclear negotiations that could lead to greater openings with the West. So far, lawmakers have responded with strong rhetoric but have largely avoided taking the bait and substantively undermining the nuclear talks in response to these provocative moves. Kildee also emphasized another reason to not conflate the issues, arguing that the detained Americans should not “be part of a transaction where we give concessions in a nuclear deal.” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) added “passing this resolution on a bipartisan basis is the most important thing we can do to reaffirm to the Iranian regime that the whole world is watching.”

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