Families of Americans Held in Iran: Don’t Forget About Us

After contentious nuclear deal, families tell American diplomats to go further.

ByABC News
July 14, 2015, 11:41 AM

— -- As the world figures out who the winners and losers are in the controversial Iranian nuclear deal, the families of four Americans believed to be held in Iran have a message for the tired American diplomats: Until our loved ones are home, you’re nowhere near done.

“The governments of the United States and Iran have worked together to reach this agreement,” Christine Levinson, the wife of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, said today. “They need to continue working together with the same sense of urgency to resolve Bob’s case and return him home to his family as soon as possible. Bob has been held against his will for more than eight years. This nightmare must end.”

Robert Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island in 2007. In 2013 it was revealed he had been working at the time with a rogue CIA operation. Though the Iranian government has denied holding Levinson and has promised to help find him, U.S. officials previously told ABC News they suspect some Iranian officials at least know where he is.

Three other Americans – a pastor, a former Marine and a prominent journalist – are currently being held in Iranian prisons on what their families and U.S. officials say are dubious charges.

Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini, said today she hopes that the U.S. Congress, which will review the nuclear deal, will not leave her husband “behind.”

“With the announcement of a deal and yet silence as to the fate of Saeed and the other Americans held hostage in Iran, their fate now lies in the hands of Congress. I plead with each member of Congress to review the deal with our family at the forefront of their thoughts,” Naghmeh Abedini said on the American Center for Law and Justice website. “My children have desperately missed the loving embrace of their father for the last three years of their lives.”

PHOTO: World leaders pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, July 14, 2015, during their talks on the Iranian nuclear program.
From left to right: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Secretary of State John Kerry pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, July 14, 2015, during their talks on the Iranian nuclear program.

The family of former Marine Amir Hekmati, who was arrested in Iran and charged with espionage in 2011, released a statement today saying they hope that the “historic news of this [nuclear] deal reflects a commitment by the United States and Iran to compromise, peace and an end to the hostility that has defined their relationship for years.”

“Our family is hopeful this translates into a release for Amir," the family said. "Amir is an innocent man who traveled to Iran to visit family, yet there is no denying that his imprisonment has been prolonged pending an outcome in these negotiations. While Amir himself has said that he should not be part of any nuclear deal, his immediate release would demonstrate a strong gesture of good faith to the international community following the successful end of the negotiations and enhance any agreement’s prospects in the U.S. Congress."

Ali Rezaian, brother of Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian who is imprisoned also on espionage charges, said that the nuclear deal “does not change Jason’s cruel and illegal imprisonment for the past 356 days.”

“We are hopeful that with agreement now in place the Iranian courts will conclude this process swiftly and affirm Jason’s innocence so we can bring him home and make our family whole again,” Ali said, according to the Post. “Jason is completely innocent of all charges and it is inhumane for him to still be held behind bars after nearly a year.”

Monday Rezaian's wife broke down in tears as ABC News spoke to his mother, Mary.

Last month representatives of each of the imprisoned men’s families appeared before Congress to remind them that as long as nuclear negotiations were ongoing, the U.S. had its best chance to get them home.

“These next few weeks is a very crucial time. If we don’t get the Americans out, I don’t know when we’ll have more leverage,” Nagameh Abedini said then.

While some lawmakers said in that session the U.S. should not sign a deal without the Americans’ release, other lawmakers and Obama administration officials said the Americans’ freedom should not be contingent on a nuclear deal.

“We’ve also been clear that we will not allow these American citizens to be used as bargaining chips,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in early June.

He added that the White House will continue to raise the cases of the imprisoned and missing Americans with Iranian officials, both privately and publicly, until they’ve been released.