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With The U.S. Out Of The Iran Deal, What Happens To Jailed Americans There?


Three American prisoners arrived safely back in the U.S. from North Korea early this morning. It was a gesture ahead of a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. But now that President Trump has pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal, the situation for Americans in Iranian prisons is far from clear. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: As he makes his rounds in Washington, Babak Namazi carefully avoids taking any stand on the Iran nuclear deal.

BABAK NAMAZI: I have no personal views on the JCPOA. When it was entered into, my brother was taken, and he remains taken with my father. And as we exit, my family's still there.

KELEMEN: His brother, Siamak Namazi, was left out of a U.S.-Iran prisoner exchange when the deal first went into force during the Obama administration. His father, a former UNICEF official, Baquer Namazi, was arrested a few months later and is now in poor health. Babak Namazi is appealing to the Trump administration to start talking with Iran about his father and brother and at least three other Americans being held in Iran.

NAMAZI: It's obvious that there's a lot going on and that the relationship is deteriorating, but I'm really imploring, begging that we somehow find a way to still see the humanitarian aspect of this and to end the suffering that they have already gone through. They can't endure much more.

KELEMEN: The U.S. has few direct diplomatic contacts with Iran, though officials have raised these cases when they attend meetings on the nuclear deal. With the U.S. out of that deal, that will be harder. The Trump administration has also reached out to U.S. allies to use their influence with Iran, according to Namazi family lawyer Jared Genser.

JARED GENSER: I think at the end of the day, the reality is these are all bank shots, right? We - what we need is a direct discussion on a humanitarian track disconnected from the high-level politics of what's going on and the difficult relationship between Iran and the United States to discuss consular matters focusing on prisoners.

KELEMEN: And he's reminding administration officials that back in 2016 before Trump became president, he mentioned the Namazis in a tweet, saying, quote, "this doesn't happen if I'm president." Babak Namazi says he is getting high-level attention in Washington.

NAMAZI: I haven't had any difficulty in engaging the White House. My difficulty, of course, is that I define success only by one element, and that's their freedom. So, so far, I've failed. I've failed as a son and as a brother to get my family released.

KELEMEN: He says he's relieved for the families of the three Americans just released from North Korea and hopes to be in that situation with his family soon, too. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.


Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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