Families of Americans held in Iran call on Biden to take action

Open letter to president urges US authorities to 'bring horrific chapter to an end'

The family of Iranian-American businessman Emad Shargi, who has been detained in Iran since April 2018, speak outside the White House. Willy Lowry / The National
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The families of four Americans being detained in Iran are calling on President Joe Biden to push harder for their release.

In an open letter sent to Mr Biden this week, the families of Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak and Baquer Namazi urged him to take the necessary steps to secure their loved ones' releases.

Siamak Namazi has been held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison since 2015 on espionage charges. His father Baquer, who had returned to Iran to help secure his son’s release, has been unable to leave the country since 2016.

Emad Shargi, an Iranian-born American businessman, has been held since 2018, as has Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American environmentalist who was born in London.

For months, the fate of the Americans has been tied up with the 2015 nuclear deal that the Biden administration hopes to revive with Iran.

But indirect talks in Vienna have been stalled since March.

“Negotiations are stuck,” said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group. “There's no doubt about it.”

The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) was a signature foreign policy achievement of former US president Barack Obama but it was abandoned by his successor Donald Trump.

While the Biden administration has long said they view the detained Americans and the nuclear deal as separate issues, they have admitted that any return to the nuclear deal would be hard to envisage without the release of the four prisoners.

The families say it is time for a change in mindset.

“As the Vienna negotiations remain in limbo, linking the fate of the hostages to the JCPOA could also result in prolonged and unnecessary agony for them and us, their loved ones,” the families wrote to Mr Biden on Medium.

“While we have been patient, it is past time for your administration and Congress to show bold resolve and deliver on your stated priority of bringing this horrific chapter for our families to an end.”

In an exclusive interview with The National on Tuesday, State Department Counsellor Derek Chollet said the US had provided a “good way forward in terms of the return of the JCPOA … but Iran has not yet responded to that".

Mr Vaez said he was not optimistic a deal would be reached and gave the chances of that happening just 25 per cent.

For the families, it continues to be an excruciating process to endure.

“We urge you and Congress not to let the fate of our loved ones turn into a political football and work closely to find an achievable diplomatic way forward with Iran,” they wrote.

Updated: June 21, 2023, 6:59 AM