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Kildee condemns Republicans' "cynical" attempt to use American prisoners in nuclear deal

Sep 17, 2015

U.S. Rep. Kildee is fighting for the American prisoners' release from Iran, but thinks tying it to the nuclear deal sets a dangerous precedent.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Republicans opposed to the Iran nuclear deal are taking that old adage to heart.

Twice now Senate Republicans have tried to pass a resolution rejecting the deal, and twice they’ve failed, blocked by Senate Democrats who support President Obama’s key foreign policy initiative.

Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, they’ll try again today.

They’re voting on a measure that would bar the president from lifting sanctions on Iran unless Tehran recognizes Israel as a state and releases its four American prisoners.

Those prisoners include Flint Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, who has been held for more than four years.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, has worked closely with the Hekmati family and is part of a chorus of Michigan Democrats calling out Sen. McConnell for tying the Iran deal to Hekmati and the other prisoners.

Kildee says linking the prisoners’ release to the nuclear deal would set a dangerous precedent.

“That would send a signal to the rest of the world that, if you can’t get something from the United States through negotiation, go ahead and grab some random American and hold them hostage,” he says.

He also says he and other Democrats don’t want to marry those conditions because it “still isn’t clear that this agreement will actually come to fruition, and we wouldn’t want to tie the freedom of an innocent American to a very tense nuclear negotiation that might not produce results.”

Kildee adds that he and his fellow lawmakers aren’t alone in their position.

“Amir himself, the person who’s been sitting in this prison for four years, has made it clear he doesn’t want to be traded,” he says.

Kildee condemns what he calls the Michigan Republican party’s “cynical” use of the prisoners.

He says he supports the agreement because it would require Iran’s commitment to not producing a nuclear weapon, as well as allow the U.S. to watch closely over the country to ensure that no such production is taking place.

“It might not be a perfect deal, but the risks associated with walking away from a negotiated agreement among six nations, that has support of the world ... with no idea what comes next, and with Iran then possessing the legal authority to produce a nuclear weapon in three months, that’s a pretty dangerous path forward,” Kildee says.

“So that’s really the bottom line for me. It’s a much safer path to approve the agreement even with some of the criticisms that have come against it.”

Kildee says the federal government is continuing to press for the release of the four American prisoners. One advantage of approaching this issue through diplomatic channels, he says, is that it paves the way to have an actual discussion rather than just dropping an ultimatum in their lap.

“Until just recently, it had been 35 years since there was even a conversation between a senior U.S. official and a senior Iranian official of any type,” he says. “I think the Iranian government, at least from what I’ve been hearing … they now understand that these Americans have become a liability for them.”

Based on what he’s been hearing, Kildee thinks the Iranian government now understands that the American prisoners have become a liability for them.

“Simply setting aside their aspiration to have a nuclear weapon does not make them a full member of the global community. They’ve got to change their behavior on a lot of fronts, and I think that one very important way for them to demonstrate that would be to release the Americans that they hold,” he says.

– Ryan Grimes, Stateside