Yesterday the White House issued a veto threat against any amendment to Senator Bob Corker’s Iran bill that would condition the lifting of sanctions on the release of American captives in Iran. Here’s the exchange between ABC’s Jonathan Karl and White House press secretary Josh Earnest (hat tip to my former colleagues at the ACLJ):
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: The Senate of course is debating the Corker Bill. Corker announces he has a veto proof majority. He doesn’t really need it, because you’ve endorsed the compromise bill. But there are a whole series of amendments that are going to be voted on. You know, for instance, there’s an amendment that says before any sanctions are lifted, Iran would have to release those three Americans known to be in Iranian prisons. What is the administration’s view on these amendments? Are you saying it is this deal or no deal? Would we go back to a veto threat situation if, in the specific instance I just mentioned, an amendment passes that says first Iran needs to release those Americans? Would you veto that bill?
JOSH EARNEST: The President would certainly veto any amendment or any bill with an amendment that undermined the unanimous compromise that was reached in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or that interfered with the ongoing negotiations. Certainly a provision, an amendment, that made this nuclear deal contingent on Iran’s release of those three American citizens would fall, I think frankly, into both categories. It would directly undermine the unanimous compromise that was reached in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and it certainly would interfere with the ongoing negotiations between the international community and Iran on their nuclear program.
The imprisoned Americans include Saeed Abedini, an American pastor imprisoned only for his Christian faith. While I don’t want to see American citizens essentially held for ransom – where Iran coaxes nuclear-deal concessions from the U.S. in exchange for their freedom – there is a significant difference between ransom and a gesture of good faith. A gesture of good faith would require Iran to take a concrete action indicating its willingness to abide by any agreement. Two weeks ago, President Obama indicated that some degree of immediate sanctions relief was on the table in the Iran negotiations, yet it would be foolish to give Iran relief without some concrete evidence that Iran is willing to change its internal policies to accommodate American requirements. If Iran can’t even give up wrongfully-imprisoned American citizens — men who offer no conceivable threat to the Iranian regime — why would we think Iran would be willing to give up strategically-significant nuclear assets?
Or, even worse, if the Obama administration has chosen a bargaining posture of such weakness that it can’t insist on freedom for our own citizens, how can we have any confidence that it will possess the moral and political fortitude to insist on compliance with any nuclear agreement? A successful agreement requires action from the Iranians, but it also requires resolve from our own government. In the treatment of American prisoners, we are seeing neither good faith from Iran nor resolve from the United States, and that is ominous indeed.