Senator questions why Iran released long-held hostages

By JACK "MILES" VENTIMIGLIA | The Daily Star-Journal, Warrensburg, Mo. (TNS) | Published: January 23, 2016

WARRENSBURG (Tribune News Service)  The question of where freeing Americans held hostage in Iran fit into the mix of reaching a nuclear arms agreement that released billions of dollars to Iran is on the table.

"I'm going to look into this at greater detail," U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, told The Daily Star-Journal. "I'm not at all sure that money didn't change hands -- that the check had to basically be cashed before the hostages were let go."

On Sunday, Iran freed Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran bureau chief; the Rev. Saeed Abedini; and Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine from Michigan; on Jan. 16, Iran freed American student Matthew Trevithick; and Iranian-American, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, though freed, elected to stay behind.

The release of the five Americans took place in conjunction with the release of seven Iranians held in the United States. News sources report six of the Iranians had attained citizenship; none of the seven elected to return to Iran.

"I am sure that the Iranians that we basically traded for our innocent hostages had violated the law in ways that gave military and other assistance," Blunt said. "It's like every other agreement that the administration has made with hostages: They get everything they want and we get what we should have had before the discussion even started. This is the beginning, I'm fearful, of a generation of bad activities that impact our country and our friends negatively because we continue to empower the Iranians in ways that make the hardliners in Iran stronger and those who would like to see democracy and more freedom weaker."

President Obama said freeing the Americans held "unjustly" by Iran kept a promise.

"In some cases, these Americans faced years of continued detention, and I've met with some of their families. I've seen their anguish, how they ache for their sons and husbands. I gave these families my word, I made a vow, that we would do everything in our power to win the release of their loved ones," Obama told the nation Sunday. "And we have been tireless. On the sidelines of the nuclear negotiations, our diplomats at the highest level, including Secretary (John) Kerry, used every meeting to push Iran to release our Americans. I did so myself, in my conversation with President Rouhani. After the nuclear deal was completed, the discussions between our governments accelerated. Yesterday, these families finally got the news that they have been waiting for."

In addition to the five civilians held in Iran, months of negotiations that led to the U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal opened lines of communication that made securing the release of 10 U.S. sailors taken hostage Jan. 12, when their patrol boats strayed into Iranian waters, possible after a single day, Obama told the nation.

"When our sailors in the Persian Gulf accidentally strayed into Iranian waters that could have sparked a major international incident. Some folks here in Washington rushed to declare that it was the start of another hostage crisis. Instead, we worked directly with the Iranian government and secured the release of our sailors in less than 24 hours," Obama said.

Blunt said Iran remains belligerent and dangerous, and he cannot support a nuclear arms deal that involves releasing tens of billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets in exchange for Iran ending, for the time being, a nuclear weapons development program.

"Everything that has happened since that agreement appears to verify the concerns that I had at the time -- the Iranians shooting the missile near the USS Harry Truman, the Iranians seizing American sailors and putting them through the kind of situation that friendly countries don't put men and women in uniform through. ... This whole agreement is a disaster," he said, adding, "Why we would give the Number One state sponsor of terrorism in the world today over $1.7 billion or so to get our hostages back, when we should have had that as something they would have had to do before we'd even start negotiating, and why we would put in place a system where over $100 billion would be returned from countries throughout the world, that have been holding those assets since that late 1970s, is a huge mistake and will fuel terrorism, and I don't think anybody can effectively debate the other side of that."

Blunt last year introduced legislation that would have made discussing a nuclear weapons deal with Iran contingent first upon releasing Rezaian and the other hostages.

"I'm still disappointed that they have been held for no good reason by a government that we have been way too responsive to, (doing) what that government wanted instead of what our government wanted."

Blunt said Iran has failed to account for one American: former FBI agent Robert Levinson, 67, who worked as a CIA consultant. CNN reported Wednesday that whether Levinson is alive and whether he is in Iran are not clear. Blunt said Iran should produce Levinson.

"We can receive no confirmation from the Iranians of what happened to him after he disappeared, in all likelihood seized by the Iranian government. So that story is not over. I don't intend to give up on Robert Levinson."

(c)2016 The Daily Star-Journal (Warrensburg, Mo.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., listens to testimony during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing on Feb. 25, 2015.


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