Families of U.S. citizens detained in Iran are pushing President Joe Biden’s administration to secure their release before discussing a return to a 2015 nuclear deal.
Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of binationals and foreigners, including several US citizens, in recent years, mostly for espionage. Human rights groups accuse Iran of trying to use the detentions to gain concessions from other countries, although Tehran rejects the accusation.
Among the detainees is Siamak namazi, businessman and dual US-Iranian citizen who was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in October 2015.
His father, Baquer Namazi, was arrested in 2016 after traveling to Iran to try to secure his son’s release. Baquer has been released but still has no right to leave the country.
“My family expects President Biden and his administration not to make any concessions or deals with Iran that don’t include, which [as] a precondition for the release of my father and Siamak, ”Babak Namazi, another son, said at an online press conference Monday.
The men were sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016 for cooperation with the US government. Babak Namazi denied the allegations and said the family considered the couple “hostages”.
The family’s call to action came as Iran and the United States remain deadlocked on efforts to revert to the 2015 nuclear deal that saw Iran agree to reduce its nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sanctions.
The Biden administration has said it wants to return to the deal, which former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018, but said Iran must first return to full compliance.
The Iranian government has said the United States must first act and lift its sanctions against the country.
“What we are open to is a diplomatic conversation and we believe that diplomacy is the best way forward to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” the press secretary said on Monday. the White House, Jen Psaki.
She said the Biden administration was awaiting a response from Iran to an invitation from France, Germany and the UK asking the country to resume negotiations.
‘Unfair and illegal’
Family members and Namazi supporters said they welcome the efforts of the Biden administration so far, including a phone call Secretary of State Antony Blinken made to families of detained US citizens , the Associated Press news agency reported.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that the release of US citizens detained in Iran was a priority for the administration.
“We have started communicating with the Iranians on this issue,” Sullivan said in an interview with CBS News’s Face the Nation.
“We will not accept a long term proposal where they will continue to detain Americans unfairly and illegally,” Sullivan said.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the United States and Iran were not in direct contact, but diplomats at the Swiss embassy were acting as intermediaries.
Iran recently arrested another dual US and Iranian citizen, Emad Shargi. Shargi was arrested again in December after serving nearly two years in prison for espionage, a charge his family called false.
Shargi had been jailed and questioned in the infamous Evin Prison in Tehran in 2018 and 2019. He was released but was unable to leave the country, the Washington Post and The New York Times reported.
With the recent detention of Iranian American Emad Shargi, PAAIA reiterates its concern over the detention of Iranian Americans in Iran without due process.https://t.co/ZfsZlT0vdy
– PAAIA (@paaia) February 18, 2021
Morad Tahbaz, another dual US-Iranian citizen, is also still detained in Iran.
The businessman and environmental activist was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “contact with the enemy US government”.
The US State Department officially called for his release in June 2020. “All those who care about basic human rights, the environment and the conservation of endangered species should join our call for the Iran to #FreeMorad, ”the department also tweeted.
Earlier this month, the United States, Canada and 56 other countries connected to a diplomatic initiative condemning the use of arbitrary detentions to create a leverage effect in state-to-state relations.
We demand the release of Morad Tahbaz, a renowned environmental activist who is suffering in a prison cell in Iran. All those who care about basic human rights, the environment and the conservation of endangered species should join our call to Iran #FreeMorad. pic.twitter.com/ka24PDsrkt
– State Department (@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. communicated at the time.