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Iran Experts: To Secure Release of Dual-Nationals Imprisoned in Iran, U.S. Must Undertake More Engagement—Not Less

WASHINGTON - Today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on the Middle East is holding a hearing entitled "The Status of American Hostages in Iran," during which family members of individuals that remain unjustly detained in Iran will share their stories. The hearing marks a key opportunity to highlight and condemn the Iranian government's unconscionable imprisonment of Americans and its other politically motivated detentions that violate Iran's human rights obligations.

Among those U.S. citizens that remain detained in Iran are businessman Siamak Namazi, long an advocate of improved U.S.-Iran relations, and his 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, who formerly served as a UNICEF diplomat; Xiyue Wang, who was arrested while conducting research for his PhD dissertation at Princeton University; and U.S. resident Nizar Zakka, who was invited to a conference in Tehran by Iranian officials before being arrested. Former FBI agent Bob Levinson's whereabouts have been unknown since he first went missing in Iran over eleven years ago, which would make him the longest-held U.S. hostage. 

Policy Director Ryan Costello of the National Iranian American Council issued the following statement in response to the hearing:


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The Iranian government deserves condemnation and public accountability for its human rights abuses and violations of international obligations, including detaining American dual nationals. Unfortunately, the actions of the Trump Administration have made it ever more difficult to seriously hold Iran’s civil government headed by Hassan Rouhani accountable and press for changes, and have strengthened the hand of Iran’s unelected governmental bodies like the Judiciary and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that are the direct perpetrators of these violations.

The motivation behind the detentions of dual-nationals are clear and require a serious approach rather than broad brush or politicized grandstanding. Dual nationals who have been arrested in Iran have been targeted by the IRGC and hardliners who resists any thaw in U.S.-Iran relationship. These elements have greatly benefited from the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and the return of a sanctions economy. The systematic imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, as well as the politicized detention of Americans, is just one more way that they seek to enshrine confrontation with the U.S. and guarantee that their grip on power will not be undermined within Iran through engagement with the West.

At this critical juncture, Congress should press the Trump Administration to make clear what the administration’s strategy is for securing the release of American prisoners. Unfortunately, there is no indication that the President has made the release of dual nationals in Iran a priority and he has played right into the hands of hardliners and torched existing diplomatic channels that could be used to press for the release of Americans.


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NIAC Action is the grassroots, civic action organization committed to advancing peace and championing the priorities of the Iranian-American community. We are a nonpartisan nonprofit and the 501(c)4 sister organization of the National Iranian American Council, which works to strengthen the Iranian-American community and promote greater understanding between the American and Iranian people.

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