This week a bipartisan resolution was introduced by Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), Ted Poe (R., Texas), Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.), and Ted Deutch (D., Fla.), that calls on U.S. President Trump to make his “highest of priorities” the unconditional, safe release of at least six U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents imprisoned in Iran. The resolution also urges the U.S. and its allies, who also have citizens detained in Iran, to create a multi-national task force to secure their release.
Last month, the administration leveled sanctions on Iran’s prison system and officials who run it.
Ros-Lehtinen believes that Iran saw incentives to take more U.S. hostages when Tehran was paid $1.7 billion last year, with $400 million paid in cash and timed to ensure the release of four U.S. hostages. She said on Thursday, “The obvious result of paying a rogue regime a ransom for the return of hostages was that it would incentivize the taking of even more hostages. And that is precisely what happened when Iran was paid a $1.7 billion ransom for American hostages.”
After that payment early last year, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has taken Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Karan Vafadari and at least one other American citizen (whose family does not want him named), as well as permanent legal residents Nizar Zakka and Afarin Niasari, and according to their lawyers and families, sentenced them on false espionage and other charges.
Several dual-nationals of other western nations, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Canada have also been imprisoned in Iran in recent months.
The payment was allegedly unrelated to the American hostages’ release. It was meant to resolve a longstanding dispute over money Iran had paid to the U.S. to buy jets, which didn’t happened after the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979. However, officials have admitted that the $400 million payment was delayed, in order to gain leverage in the hostage negotiations. Now, Republicans warn that the decision would lead to more hostage situations.
Ros-Lehtinen says that it is time for the U.S. and its allies to “send a strong message to the regime in Tehran that this tactic will not pay off—the regime must release all hostages unconditionally.”
The resolution also calls for the safe return of Robert Levinson, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent went missing in Iran in 2007. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry said the Iranian government pledged to help in the search for Levinson after the prisoner exchange early last year. The resolution also calls for the safe return of Robert Levinson.
During the follow up talk last week with Iranian officials, regarding the implementation of the nuclear deal in Vienna, State Department officials brought up their concerns about the U.S. citizens detained and missing in Iran, and pushed for their release.
The administration leveled new economic sanctions against senior Iranian officials and its prison systems last month, for what White House officials said were widespread human rights abuses, including systematic torture of those being held. Tehran Prisons Organization and Sohrab Suleimani, a senior official in the prison system were sanctioned.
Iran’s Evin Prison is Sohrab Suleimani’s responsibility. It is known for its harsh conditions and forced interrogations, and it is where many, if not all, of the prisoners with U.S. citizenship or green cards are being held.