A U.S. Marine veteran imprisoned in Iran asked Congress for “serious consequences” against the Islamic Republic, currently engaged in nuclear negotiations with the United States.
The White House’s strongest response Tuesday was to express “concerns” about Amir Hekmati and other Americans in Iranian prisons.
“The unjust detention of Americans in Iran has continued to serve as an impediment to better relations between U.S. and Iran,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “So there already have been consequences that Iran has suffered as a result of this.”
This undated file photo released by his family via FreeAmir.org shows Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine being held in Iran over the past two years on accusations of spying for the CIA. (AP Photo/Hekmati family via FreeAmir.org, File)
Hekmati has been held in Iran for three years on accusations that he was a CIA spy, which he denies. He dictated a letter to a family member over the phone that was sent to members of Congress. The 31-year-old from Flint, Michigan, is an American born of Iranian descent.
A reporter read from the letter during the White House press briefing Tuesday.
“As a war veteran who defended our nation in a time of need, I ask that you also work defend my dignity and that of my fellow Americans by putting in place serious consequences for this serial hostage taking and treatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence,” the letter says.
The White House has continually said that negotiations with Iran, facing a June 30 after the deal reached earlier this month, will not be contingent on the release of American prisoners. But, Earnest said Tuesday that the captives are a top priority for the administration.
“We’ve made those concerns known in a quite public fashion,” Earnest said. “We’ve also made those concerns known privately directly with the Iranian leadership. As recently as a month or two ago, Secretary of State John Kerry, on the sidelines of his nuclear negotiations with his Iranian counterpart raised his concerns about this unjust detention."
Former talk show host and veteran Montel Williams established a fundraiser for Hekmati earlier this month to help offset the cost of the legal defense efforts for his family.
Last month, President Barack Obama, in a statement marking the Persian new year, called for the release of four Americans held in Iran, Saeed Abedini of Boise, a pastor from Idaho imprisoned for two and half years because of his religious beliefs; Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, charged with spying; and Robert Levinson, an American who went missing in Iran.