(CNSNews.com) – Donald Trump said on Capitol Hill Wednesday that if he is elected president, four American citizens imprisoned or missing in Iran will be back in the United States – “before I ever take office.”
Addressing a Tea Party Patriots-organized rally, the billionaire businessman railed against those who negotiated the nuclear agreement with Iran, saying, “Never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran. And I mean never.”
And in highlighting what he views as weaknesses in the agreement, the Republican presidential hopeful alluded to the fact the Obama administration had not tied the deal to the fate of Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian and Bob Levinson.
“We have four wonderful people over there,” he said, “and frankly, they’re never going to come back with this group,” he added, apparently referring to the administration.
“And I will say this,” Trump continued. “If I win the presidency, I guarantee you that those four prisoners are back in our country before I ever take office. I guarantee that.
“They will be back before I ever take office, because they [the Iranians] know that that’s what has to happen, okay? They know it, and if they don’t know it, I’m telling them right now,” he added.
Pastor Saeed Abedini, a convert from Islam, was arrested while on a family visit to Iran, convicted on charges of “crimes against national security,” and sentenced in early 2013 to eight years’ imprisonment.
Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine accused of spying for the CIA, was sentenced to death in January 2012. Iran’s supreme court subsequently overturned the sentence and ordered a retrial. His family later learned that in a secret trial he was convicted of “cooperating with hostile governments” and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. August 29 marked the fourth anniversary of his incarceration on what Secretary of State John Kerry says are “false espionage charges.”
Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, has been detained for more than a year, accused of espionage and other crimes – charges denied by his family, lawyer and the newspaper. The outcome of his recent trial remains unclear, and an Iranian judiciary spokesman this week dismissed speculation that Tehran may consider a prisoner swap.
Bob Levinson, a retired FBI agent, went missing in Iran in March 2007. The FBI has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his safe recovery and return home.
The administration says that issues extraneous to the nuclear issue – whether imprisoned Americans, Iran’s sponsorship of terror or other matters – were intentionally omitted from the negotiations. But Kerry and other officials have also said repeatedly that U.S. negotiators brought up the fate of the four numerous times on the sidelines of the nuclear talks.
Some critics of the Iranian regime, including U.S. lawmakers, say the four Americans are tantamount to hostages, although the administration has rejected the use of that term.
“Well, the Americans – we probably legally would not call them hostages,” chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman said when asked about the four last July. “Detainees,” she suggested.
“A decision was made a very long time ago that trying to get our Americans home should be a separate matter [to the nuclear negotiations],” Sherman told reporters at the time.
“And as I think most of you know, every time I see the Iranians, every time that Secretary Kerry sees the Iranians on the margins of the talks, we have a separate, independent conversation about the detained Americans.”
Trump’s remark about the four returning to the U.S. before he takes office calls to mind the way in which the hostage crisis in Iran ended more than three decades ago.
Fifty-two American diplomats, embassy staffers and others were taken hostage during the 1979 Islamic revolution and held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days.
President Carter, having failed in April 1980 to rescue the hostages – a abortive military operation cost the lives of eight U.S. military personnel – later negotiated a deal with Algerian mediation, providing for the release of the hostages, the unfreezing of Iranian assets, and immunity from future prosecutions arising out of the Americans’ captivity.
The deal was finalized during Carter’s final days in office, and the hostages were duly released on Jan. 20, 1981, the day President Reagan was sworn in.