The families of American citizens detained in Iran have asked President Donald Trump to pull visas from the children of the country’s most senior diplomats, according to a report from NBC News on Tuesday.
According to sources who spoke to the outlet, the American families have provided the administration and several lawmakers with a list of Iranian nationals residing in the United States, all of whom are children or relatives of senior Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani.
The families reportedly see the request as a litmus test of the Trump administration’s commitment to securing the release of their family members, with Trump having repeatedly promised to resolve the issue with the use of such measures.
At least four Americans and one U.S. legal resident remain imprisoned in Iran on charges of alleged espionage, having been subjected to secretive and unfair trials. Human rights organizations argue the charges are arbitrary and baseless.
Nadim Zakka, whose father Nizar was detained and sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2015 while attending a conference in Iran, said the move would represent “the minimum the United States Government can do to stop this trend of hostage-taking that has been happening for 40 years.”
“They need to pay the price on a personal basis so that they would know that each action will affect them personally,” he explained. One other friend of the family said they were “at a loss” as to why the administration was not taking further action.
“I’m at a loss why this administration would be so soft on the regime knowing full well it is these very senior officials targeting innocent Americans for persecution,” they said. “Surely the least we could do is deny their family members the benefits of living and working in our great country.”
Some of those named on the list include the son of Masumeh Ebetekar, currently serving as vice president for family and women’s affairs in the Iranian government, who is reportedly studying in Los Angeles. Another is the daughter of the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, whose daughter is believed to be a resident in internal medicine at a hospital in Ohio. Meanwhile, the LinkedIn profile of Rouhani’s nephew suggests he attended college in New York City and now works there.
The lifestyles of family members of Iranian officials recently caused controversy back in Iran, where anti-government protesters complained about how politician’s children were given lucrative state jobs with the chance to travel around the world as Iranian citizens suffered under the weight of the country’s weakened economy.
When asked about whether they would consider the latest proposal, a State Department spokesperson said they cannot “provide any detail of our private diplomatic discussions or internal policy deliberations.”
“The United States is pursuing all options for pressing the Iranian regime to end their arbitrary detention of U.S. persons and will continue to press Iran on these cases until they are resolved,” they explained.
Since coming to office last year, Trump has had some success in securing the release of Americans held in countries such as North Korea, Egypt, Turkey and Venezuela. However, the pressure to do more for those in Iran has grown in recent months, as families continue to lobby the U.N. and other foreign governments to help secure the release of their loved ones.
“We are giving carte blanche to Iranian officials and family members to study and to travel here,” said one family friend. “We should be scrutinizing them a little closer.”