The families of United States citizens detained in Iran are pushing President Joe Biden’s administration to secure their release before talks about returning to a 2015 nuclear deal.
Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, including several US citizens, in recent years, mostly on espionage charges. Rights groups accuse Iran of trying to use the detentions to win concessions from other countries, though Tehran dismisses the charge.
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Among the detainees is Siamak Namazi, a businessman and dual US-Iranian citizen who was arrested by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in October 2015.
His father, Baquer Namazi, was arrested in 2016 after travelling to Iran to try to secure his son’s release. Baquer has been released but remains barred from leaving the country.
“My family expects that President Biden and his administration will not make concessions or deals with Iran that do not include, that indeed requires [as] a precondition the release of my father and Siamak,” Babak Namazi, another son, said during an online news conference on Monday.
The men were sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016 on charges of cooperating with the US government. Babak Namazi rejected the allegations and said the family considers the pair “hostages”.
The family’s call for action came as Iran and the US remain at an impasse over efforts to return to the 2015 nuclear deal that saw Iran agree to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.
The Biden administration has said it wants to return to the agreement, which former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from in 2018, but said Iran must first return to full compliance.
The Iranian government said the US must act first and lift its sanctions on the country.
“What we are open to is a diplomatic conversation and our view is that diplomacy is the best way path forward to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.
She said the Biden administration is waiting on a response from Iran to an invitation put forward by France, Germany and the United Kingdom asking the country to return to negotiations.
‘Unjust and unlawful’
Family members and supporters of the Namazis said they welcomed the Biden administration efforts so far, including a telephone call that Secretary of State Antony Blinken made to families of detained US citizens, The Associated Press news agency reported.
On Sunday, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the release of US citizens being held in Iran is a priority for the administration.
“We have begun to communicate with the Iranians on this issue,” Sullivan said in an interview on the CBS News programme Face the Nation.
“We will not accept a long-term proposition where they continue to hold Americans in an unjust and unlawful manner,” Sullivan said.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the US and Iran were not in direct contact, however, but that Swiss embassy diplomats were serving as a go-between.
Iran recently detained another dual US-Iranian citizen, Emad Shargi. Shargi was re-arrested in December after serving nearly two years in prison on charges of spying, an accusation his family has said is false.
Shargi had been imprisoned and interrogated in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2018 and 2019. He was released but was barred from leaving the country, the Washington Post and New York Times reported.
With the recent detainment of Iranian American Emad Shargi, PAAIA reemphasizes its concern about Iranian Americans being detained in Iran without due process.https://t.co/ZfsZlT0vdy
— PAAIA (@paaia) February 18, 2021
Morad Tahbaz, another dual US-Iranian citizen, also remains detained in Iran.
The businessman and conservationist was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “contacts with the US enemy government”.
The US State Department formally called for his release in June 2020. “All who care about basic human rights, the environment, and the preservation of endangered species should join our call for Iran to #FreeMorad,” the department also tweeted.
Earlier this month, the US, Canada and 56 other nations signed on to a diplomatic initiative condemning the use of arbitrary detentions to create leverage in state-to-state relations.
We call for the release of Morad Tahbaz, a renowned conservationist suffering in a jail cell in Iran. All who care about basic human rights, the environment, and the preservation of endangered species should join our call for Iran to #FreeMorad. pic.twitter.com/ka24PDsrkt
— Department of State (@StateDept) June 8, 2020
“It’s time to send a clear message to every government that arbitrarily detains foreign nationals and tries to use them as leverage: this will not be tolerated by the international community,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement at the time.