May 06, 2017

A moderate Republican Congresswoman in the United States has introduced a bill that demands the Iranian government release all U.S. citizens and legal permanent resident aliens being held for political purposes by the Iranian regime.

Miami, UNITED STATES; FILE PHOTO: U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) speaks at a news conference at her office in Miami, Florida August 12, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File photo

The bill by Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, will need to be adopted by the entire House before becoming official.

In her bi-partisan House Resolution 317, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, and others who have co-sponsored her bill, called on Tehran for the “unconditional release of United States citizens and legal permanent resident aliens being held for political purposes by the Government of Iran.”

While the exact number of Iranian dual nationals and permanent residents of other countries lingering in Iranian jails is not known, the latest congressional bill specifically refers to “Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi, Karan Vafadari, and a fourth not publicly identified United States citizen as well as United States legal permanent residents Afarin Niasari and Nizar Zakka.”

The House Resolution also calls for the immediate release of Robert Levinson, a U.S. citizen and retired agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who traveled to Kish Island and disappeared on March 9, 2007. 

The bill goes beyond making unbinding demands from the Iranian government and calls on the government of President Donald Trump to “make the release of United States citizens and legal permanent resident aliens held hostage by the Government of Iran the highest of priorities” and “encourages the President to take meaningful action to secure their release.”

It also calls on the Trump administration and “its allies whose nationals have been detained [to] consider establishing a multinational task force to secure the release of the detainees.”

The House effort comes days before President Trump is expected to embark on his first official trip to the Middle East, which will also take him to Saudi Arabia.

While in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the U.S. president and the de facto leaders of the world’s Sunni Muslims are expected to renew their opposition to the Islamic Republic, its policies in the Middle East, as well as to the nuclear accord Iran signed with major world powers in 2015.

Establishing better relations with the West and regional countries in the Middle East has been a foreign policy pillar of President Hassan Rouhani, who is engaged in re-elections battles.

The effort to jumpstart moves to gain release of the prisoners also coincides with individual campaigns on behalf of specific prisoners.

Late last month, Babak Namazi, brother and son of the Namazis sentenced each to 10 years in prison, and their lawyer, Jared Genser , held a press conference in Vienna, Austria, and renewed calls on the Trump administration to increase efforts to secure the release of the father and son.

Genser said his clients are reportedly in poor health. 

“In our view, something happening to the Namazis would be devastating not just to one side but to both sides,” Genser told reporters in a hotel near the venue.

“For either or both of the Namazis to die on (Trump’s) watch would be a public and catastrophic failure of his negotiating skills,” he added.