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For Families Of Americans Held Or Missing In Iran, Nuclear Deal Is A Loss


The landmark deal reached this week with Iran focused only on its nuclear program. It did not address the case of four Americans, three held in Iranian prisons and one former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran eight years ago. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports the families have mixed reactions.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian should have been covering the news out of Vienna this week, says his brother, Ali.

ALI REZAIAN: That's something that is part of the tragedy. I know it was something he was looking forward to. It was a story that he wanted to cover and he's missed it.

KELEMEN: His brother has been in jail for almost a year, accused of espionage and propaganda against the Islamic State. The trial is closed and Ali Rezaian says his brother's lawyer can't say much about what happens in the courtroom. He only heard that his brother seemed to be in good spirits at his hearing this week.

REZAIAN: My mother, who has traveled to Iran and has been there every day that there's been a court date, she's been there along with Jason's wife at the courtroom, but they won't let them in. They won't let them see Jason when he comes in or goes out. And the entire process is very cruel.

KELEMEN: A kind question about Rezaian's case and the fate of three other Americans hit a nerve with President Obama at his news conference yesterday. He says it's nonsense to see the nuclear deal as a sign that he's content to leave Americans languishing in Iranian jails.


BARACK OBAMA: I've met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody's content, and our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.

KELEMEN: But Obama made clear he didn't want to tie these cases to the nuclear negotiations.


OBAMA: Think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes, you know what? Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.

KELEMEN: The question now is whether the U.S. has lost its leverage with the negotiations over. Another concern is that the hard-liners in Iran might be even less willing to give in on this after their country compromised on nuclear issues. Ali Rezaian looks at it another way, raising hopes that Iranian officials will now spend a bit more time taking a closer look at his brother's case.

REZAIAN: And realize that this is just completely unjust and that that's not the way that they want to be portrayed in the world as they go forward.

KELEMEN: The family of another jailed American - Amir Hekmati - is making a similar appeal. The former Marine was jailed nearly four years ago when he was visiting his grandmother in Iran. Hekmati's congressman is Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, who says this will resonate with Congress as it considers the nuclear deal.

DAN KILDEE: It's difficult, if not possible, for any American or any member of Congress to measure Iran's seriousness in adhering to this agreement without considering their other behaviors.

KELEMEN: Congress has 60 days to weigh in on the agreement, and though Kildee says he will judge it on its merits, he says he will be watching what Iran does during this time.

KILDEE: Iran would take a big step forward as being considered serious in their effort to engage with the rest of the world if they were to release the Americans that they hold.

KELEMEN: The wife of another jailed American issued a statement saying she's deeply disappointed that the Obama administration agreed to the nuclear deal without freeing her husband, Pastor Saed Abedini. And the family of a former FBI agent - Robert Levinson - is urging the U.S. to work harder to bring him home, eight years after he went missing in Iran. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.