- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Under growing pressure to use the nuclear talks with Iran to demand the release of Americans imprisoned there, the White House refused again Tuesday to link the two issues.

“The fact that Iran engages in a wide variety of other behaviors that are concerning to us is not a reason to break up those [nuclear] negotiations,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “In fact, it is a very strong incentive for those negotiations to succeed.”

Iran is holding at least three Americans in prison unjustly, in the view of the U.S. — including former Marine Amir Hekmati, who was arrested in August 2011 on allegations of spying for the CIA while visiting his grandmother and other relatives in Iran. Mr. Hekmati recently called on U.S. officials in an open letter to put in place “serious consequences for this serial hostage taking and mistreatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence.”

Some lawmakers are pressing the administration to use the nuclear talks as leverage to compel Iran to relent on matters ranging from U.S. prisoners to Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorism.

“It’s hard to treat the conduct of Iran as if one hand in Iran doesn’t know what the other hand is doing,” Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said Tuesday. “I can’t think of a similar time when we were trying to negotiate with somebody on one issue and talking about intercepting weapons that they might be sending to Yemen at the same time on a supposedly unrelated issue.”

Mr. Blunt said the administration has been giving in to Tehran on issues such as the timing of lifting sanctions, since the tentative nuclear agreement was reached in early April.

“Since the framework was announced, it does seem to me that those negotiations continue to be moving publicly in the direction of Iran,” Mr. Blunt said. “The framework was [that] there will be no sanctions relief until we see a lot of compliance. Suddenly, that’s negotiable. It appears that everything is negotiable if the Iranians want to negotiate it.”

On the issue of American prisoners, it was also revealed Monday that Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian is being charged by Iran with espionage and other crimes. Mr. Rezaian was arrested, along with his wife, in 2014; she was later released.

Christian pastor Saeed Abedini is also being held by Iran. And Robert Levinson, an American private investigator and former FBI agent, disappeared in Iran in 2007, although Tehran denies it is holding him.

Mr. Earnest said Iran’s “destabilizing actions” on a variety of fronts are compelling reason for the administration to conclude a nuclear agreement that prevents Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

“We continue to be concerned about Iran’s support for terror around the globe,” Mr. Earnest said. “We continue to be concerned about Iran’s destabilizing activities throughout the Middle East. We do not anticipate that the ongoing nuclear negotiations are going to succeed in resolving all of those concerns, but what we do expect is that those talks will allow us to verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would be only more destabilizing to the Middle East, would be only more dangerous when they’re providing support to terrorist organizations, and would be only more dangerous when they menace Israel.”

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