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Obama defends not tying release of Americans to Iran nuclear deal

Jul 15, 2015

President Obama rebuked a White House reporter today for the way he asked a questions about four Americans held in Iran. 

Amir Hekmati
Credit The Hekmati family

One of the four is Amir Hekmati. The Flint man has been held by the Iranian government on spying charges for nearly four years. 

The U.S. marine veteran denies the allegations.

The exchange between the president and CBS reporter Major Garrett took place during a rare presidential news conference. 

You can read and see it here (scroll to 42:16).

Garrett asked the president:

Can you tell the country sir why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscious (sic) of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?

President Obama responded:

I gotta give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am 'content,' as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that's nonsense. And you should know better. I've met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody's content. And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try and get them out. Now, if the question is 'why we did not tie the [nuclear] negotiations to their release,' think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly Iran realizes, 'you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.' It makes it much more difficult for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent in some fashion on the nuclear deal and by the way if we had walked away from the nuclear deal we'd still be pushing them just as hard to get these folks out. That's why those issues are not connected, but we are working every single day to try and get them out and won't stop until they are out and rejoined with their families. 

The Hekmati family issued a statement on the Iranian nuclear agreement. The family says it hopes a compromise on the Iranian government’s nuclear program can translate into Amir Hekmati’s eventual release.

“This August will mark four years that Amir has languished behind the walls of Evin prison. We pray Amir does not reach this milestone. It is long past time that Amir be released to end his and our family’s suffering,” the statement concluded.