During a rare press conference Wednesday at the White House, President Obama was asked by CBS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett about whether he was content four Americans are still imprisoned by the Iranian regime after a nuclear deal was announced yesterday. To say the least, Obama didn't like the question (bolding is mine).
Garrett: Thank you Mr. President. As you well know there are still four Americans in Iran. Three held on trumped up charges according to your administration, one whereabouts unknown. Can you tell the country sir why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscious of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans? And last week the Joint Chiefs of Staff said under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons. It is perceived that was a last minute capitulation in these negotiations. Many in the Pentagon feel you've left the Joint Chiefs of Staff hung out to dry. Could you comment?
Obama: I gotta give you credit major for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am 'content,' as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that's nonsense. And you should know better. I've met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody's content. And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try and get them out. Now, if the question is 'why we did not tie the [nuclear] negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly Iran realizes, 'you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.' It makes it much more difficult for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent in some fashion on the nuclear deal and by the way if we had walked away from the nuclear deal we'd still be pushing them just as hard to get these folks out. That's why those issues are not connected, but we are working every single day to try and get them out and won't stop until they are out and rejoined with their families. With respect to the Chairman's testimony, to some degree I already answered this with Carol, we are not taking the pressure off Iran with respect to arms and with respect to ballistic missiles."
The release of the Americans and allowing Iran to eventually trade ballistic missiles (in eight years) and conventional weapons (in five years) under this deal go hand-in-hand. The White House has been arguing for months that the release of the Americans in Iranian custody could not be included in the nuclear deal because it was strictly about the regime's nuclear program, not other issues. But it turns out, Iran was able to negotiate a way to lift sanctions and bans on ballistic missile and conventional weapons trading as part of a deal that was supposed to be strictly nuclear. Because of this, the White House argument that getting the Americans out of Iran couldn't be part of the nuclear deal was no longer applicable.
The bottom line is that President Obama left Pastor Saeed Abedini, U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and FBI agent Robert Levinson behind in Iran and now all of the leverage to get them out is gone. Obama placed his "historic" legacy of getting a deal above their release. Meanwhile Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who received a Rose Garden welcome home from Obama, is back on U.S. soil and still hasn't been condemned by the White House for dishonorably deserting his unit in Afghanistan.