WASHINGTON, D.C.—Rep. Robert Pittenger wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, co-signed by 49 of his Republican colleagues in the House, urging him to “reconsider” the Obama administration’s “strategic alignment with the Iranian government” in the wake of the Islamic Republic’s capture of 10 U.S. Navy sailors and Tehran’s recent illegal ballistic missile tests.
The January 14 letter highlights the capture of 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their two boats Tuesday by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Shiite country’s recent illegal ballistic missiles tests, and Iran being listed by the U.S. as a state-sponsor of terrorism for more than three decades.
Rep. Pittenger, chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and vice chairman of the Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, suggested that Iran’s capture of the U.S. sailors may have violated international law.
Neither the State Department nor the Pentagon would say if the photos showing the sailors kneeling with their hands behind their back before armed Iranian troops and footage of one of the sailors apologizing for straying into Iranian waters is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which area series of treaties on the treatment of prisoners.
“On multiple occasions in October and November 2015, it was reported that the Iranian government conducted illegal tests of its new medium range ballistic missile. These tests directly challenge access to the Strait of Hormuz,” wrote Pittenger. “Further, it has been widely reported that the Iranian military captured and detained several uniformed Navy sailors this past week — actions that are a far cry from standard nautical practice and possibly in violation of international law.”
Rep. Pittenger noted that letter was aimed at expressing concern over the direction of America’s foreign policy towards Iran.
“At a critical moment for U.S. foreign policy, we hope that you will reconsider your strategic alignment with the Iranian government and give full support to our Middle Eastern allies,” wrote Pittenger.
“We view your responses towards their missile tests and detention of our uniformed military members as precursor to a reaction that favors Iran after the diplomatic fallout that occurred with Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Tensions between the two Middle East region rivals, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, have worsened since Riyadh executed prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on terrorism charges.
The execution prompted several of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni allies to break diplomatic ties with Iran after demonstrators ravaged the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
“Strategically, this Administration has created a scenario where foreign policy decision-making is based solely on justifying the competence of the Iran deal,” also wrote Pittenger. “The United States appears unwilling to leverage regional momentum against an Iranian government that has spent decades supporting terrorism and other anti-American policies.”
In July 2015, Iran and five U.S.-led world powers—UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany—struck a nuclear agreement.
The ten U.S. Navy sailors and their two vessels were released Wednesday, a day after they were captured.
Echoing Kerry, State Department spokesman Mark Toner credited the “successful resolution” to “the lines of communication that were opened through [the Iran nuclear deal] negotiations.”
Denis McDonough, President Obama’s chief of staff, also credited Secretary of Kerry’s work opening communications with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif through the nuclear deal negotiations with securing the quick release of the American sailors.
Meanwhile, Pittenger, echoing other Republican lawmakers, argued in the letter that the nuclear deal “has emboldened Iran and fostered an expansionary role as a state-sponsor of terror.”
“As you are well aware, the Iranian government over the past several years has been accused of funding, arming, training, and giving sanctuary to U.S.-designated terrorists,” noted the North Carolina Republican, later adding, “We believe that your adherence to the Iran deal will place U.S. foreign diplomacy on the side of Iran. This comes at a time when many of our regional allies, including Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, have spoken out against Iran’s support of terror organizations and the oppressive [Iran-backed Bashar al] Assad regime [in Syria].”
Iran was officially designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States in January 1984.
“The seizure of the sailors came days before the nuclear deal is expected to go into force and sanctions on Tehran — which will be lifted in exchange for Iran’s freeze on its nuclear program — are set to start being rolled back,” reports CNN.
Pittenger’s letter was co-signed by: David Rouzer, Phil Roe, Mike Simpson, Michael Burgess, Randy Weber, Doug LaMalfa, Dennis Ross, Thomas Rooney, Austin Scott, Bill Posey, Tim Walberg, Steve Chabot, Joe Wilson, Randy Hultgren, Brian Babin, Marlin Stutzman, Bob Gibbs, Todd Rokita, John Ratcliffe, Rodney Davis, Lamar Smith, Alex Mooney, Ander Crenshaw, Mike Bost, Joe Pitts, Mario Diaz-Balart, Bruce Westerman, Rick Allen, Kevin Cramer, Barbara Comstock, Steve Russell, Luke Messer, Dana Rohrabacher, Dan Benishek, John Katko, Chris Stewart, Paul Gosar, Louie Gohmert, Tom Rice, Trent Kelly, Rick Crawford, Mike Rogers, Lynn Jenkins, Susan Brooks, Chris Collins, Bradley Byrne, Earl “Buddy” Carter, Brett Guthrie, and Martha McSally.