The White House said it was “prepared to impose new and serious consequences on Iran unless all unjustly imprisoned American citizens are released and returned” in a statement released on Friday.
“The United States condemns hostage takers and nations that continue to take hostages and detain our citizens without just cause or due process,” the White House statement declared.
Intriguingly, the statement mentioned both recently imprisoned Americans and former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who has been missing for over 10 years.
On the 10th anniversary of his disappearance in March, Levinson’s son Daniel expressed hope that President Trump could bring his father home. Trump has promised to secure Levinson’s release, accusing the Iranian government of knowing “exactly where he is.”
The Levinson family was critical of the Obama administration for ignoring his plight in order to avoid antagonizing Iran while the nuclear deal was being negotiated.
“For nearly forty years, Iran has used detentions and hostage taking as a tool of state policy, a practice that continues to this day with the recent sentencing of Xiyue Wang to ten years in prison,” this weekend’s White House statement said. Wang is a Chinese-American grad student who was performing historical research in Iran when he was arrested and convicted on charges of spying for the United States. Wang was missing for almost a year before Iran admitted he was in custody.
“Iran is responsible for the care and well-being of every United States citizen in its custody. President Trump urges Iran to return Robert Levinson home, who has been held for over 10 years, and demands Iran release Siamak and Baquer Namazi, who were taken during the Obama administration, along with all other American citizens unjustly detained by Iran,” said the White House.
Siamak Namazi is the first American citizen detained by Iran after the passage of the nuclear deal. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $4.8 million in October 2016 for “cooperating with Iran’s enemies.” His 80-year-old father Baquer, a former representative of UNICEF and onetime Iranian provincial governor, was accused of the same crime and given the same sentence.
On Monday, Iran’s top judge retaliated by demanding the United States “immediately release Iranian citizens held in American prisons in violation of international rules and based on baseless charges.”
“You have seized the property of the Islamic Republic of Iran in violation of all rules and in a form of open piracy, and these should be released,” Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani added.