The Iranian government has an immediate opportunity to rebut criticism of the new diplomatic agreement aimed at curtailing its nuclear ambitions with a show of good faith. Its leaders can start by releasing the three – maybe four – Americans who are imprisoned or missing in Iran.
Even as the United States, Iran and other world powers wrapped up the nuclear accord last week, Iranian authorities resumed the political show trial of Jason Rezaian, a reporter for The Washington Post who is ludicrously accused of spying for this country. Also detained in Iran are Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine from Michigan, and Saeed Abedini, an American Christian pastor. Robert Levinson, a retired federal investigator, has been missing in Iran for nearly eight years, and he too may be in prison.
At his press conference last week, President Barack Obama again called for the release of Rezaian and the other Americans, even as the president bristled at a reporter’s suggestion that he was “content” with the status of the captives. Obama said the fate of the imprisoned Americans was not tied to the nuclear negotiations in order to prevent Iran from using them as bargaining chips.
That argument is defensible. But it’s hard to see how relations between the United States and Iran can improve in other areas while Americans are, in Obama’s words, “languishing in Iranian jails.”
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The real accomplishments of the nuclear agreement include tough and verifiable restrictions on Iran’s ability to build a bomb and the ability of inspectors to identify cheating.
At the very least, Iran can start to build some trust and ease doubts about the nuclear deal by promptly releasing Americans it is imprisoning unjustly.