(CNSNews.com) - "Well, I'm happy that they are coming home," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said of the four American prisoners released by Iran over the weekend in exchange for the U.S. pardoning or dropping charges against seven Iranians and giving up extradition proceedings on 14 others.
A fifth American was released separately.
"My problem is this," Rubio told Fox News's Greta Van Susteren Monday night.
"Number one, they should never have been hostages in the first place. None of them did anything wrong. And number two, I think that Iran very deliberately seized them because they know that under Barack Obama, you can trade Americans for people you want back.
"And so here we have five innocent people, who were traded in exchange for seven guilty people who were condemned in courts of law in the freest judicial system in the world.
"And I just think the president continues to set Bergdahl, the Cuban trade and now this. Now you put a price on the head of every American abroad in terms of being kidnapped or captured by unfriendly government."
Rubio acknowledged that the seven Iranian prisoners freed by the Obama administration were not accused of violent crimes. They had violated U.S.-imposed sanctions intended to impede Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
"The bottom line is, they were convicted of wrongdoing," Rubio said. "So here you are, seven people who were convicted for legitimate wrongdoing, traded in exchange for five people who did nothing wrong. A few of them hadn't even been charged. There was no understanding.
"One of them, there wasn't even public acknowledgment they were there. And it's just outrageous. It really is. But, again, I think you're going to see more of this as long as Barack Obama is president. Because it's now clear to everyone that he makes trades with the Taliban, made trades with the Castro brothers and now this. You are now creating an incentive for more governments and more countries to try to -- and more terrorist groups and others to try to get their hands on Americans.
"But, look, we are glad that they are coming home. It took way too long. And if anything else, this should remind us and open our eyes to the fact of who Iran truly is. They are not an ally, they are not a friendly government and they are not from our government's perspective even a civilized government. They are basically a terror government run by radical Shia cleric, who are willing to do whatever it takes and in this case, you know, hold these five Americans who have done nothing wrong."
Asked what he would have done to bring the captive Americans home, Rubio said he would have refused to even enter negotiations with Iran without first resolving the prisoner situation. "Not at the back end, at the front end," he said.
As for the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, Rubio said he's "very suspicious" of it. "I think there should have been specific sanctions against Iran simply for the fact that they took these five Americans hostages. There should have been specific sanctions just for this, not to mention the missile deals or the missile activity they are undertaking and, of course, not to mention their nuclear program.
"So I think we would have been much firmer at the front end and insisting their immediate and unconditional release and not somehow encouraged them to roll them into this whole deal, where again, you are getting a trade of seven people convicted in a court of law in exchange for five Americans who did nothing wrong and were hostages. They were not prisoners. They were hostages."
President Barack Obama has called the implementation of the nuclear deal and the release of the American prisoners as victories for "smart" diplomacy.