Kerry: If It Weren’t For My Relationship With Iran’s Zarif, Our Sailors Would Probably Be Hostages

Patrick Goodenough | February 25, 2016 | 4:25am EST
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Secretary of State John Kerry appears before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee of State, foreign operations and related programs, on Wednesday, February 24, 2016. (Screenshot: U.S. Senate)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on Wednesday that if it wasn’t for the Iran nuclear deal and his relationship with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, ten U.S. sailors apprehended in Iranian waters last month would probably now be hostages.

Kerry told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing he had called Zarif within five minutes of hearing that the sailors, in two small patrol boats, had been taken into custody in the Persian Gulf.

“I gave him a very direct statement about what would happen if we didn’t have their release very quickly.”

Kerry said Zarif called him back within 20 minutes and assured him that they would be released and that they were being “well taken care of.”

Kerry said he never saw the footage of the sailors being held at gunpoint, kneeling and with their hands behind the back of their heads, “until well after” their release.

“I immediately called and I condemned those photographs, as every American did, and it was a violation of a number of things,” he continued.

“But the point I’m making is, if we hadn’t done this [nuclear] agreement and I didn’t have a relationship with the foreign minister, then they probably would have been hostages and they might still be there, It was a virtue – ” Kerry said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairing the hearing, interjected, “I would imagine that if President Obama wasn’t president, and anybody else was president, they [the Iranians] would never have done this to begin with.”

“I’m really tired of this” Graham said. “Being walked all over.”

The sailors were released after being held by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy for around 14 hours on Jan. 12-13.

After their release Iran thanked Iran for ensuring a swift resolution of the incident, calling the outcome “a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong.”

Over the following weeks, Iranian state media repeatedly showed images of the sailors’ detention at gunpoint, including a clip showing a sailor, apparently in tears.

A still from video footage released on Iran state media shows U.S. sailors kneeling, hands behind their heads, after being apprehended by the IRGC Navy in the Persian Gulf. (Image: Al-Alam TV)

Five days after the incident Kerry told reporters, in response to questions about his reaction to the images of the sailors, that they had made him angry and frustrated.

During Wednesday hearing, on the administration’s FY2017 State and foreign operations budget, Kerry also told the panel he would not support the imposition by Congress of new sanctions on Iran at this time.

Graham noted that the Iran Sanctions Act – which imposed sanctions related to terrorism, ballistic missile development and the nuclear program – expires late this year, and asked Kerry whether he would welcome Congress reauthorizing the sanctions immediately.

“Not immediately,” Kerry replied, “because I think we are just beginning now to see the full implementation [of the nuclear deal]. I think we need to see how effectively and well they comply, and also what happens with respect to these other aspects of behavior [missiles and support for terror].”

Kerry pointed out that the Iran Sanction Act only expires at the end of the year.

“We could pass it in about ten minutes,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a need to rush here.”

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