Obama brags over nuclear deal as Iran arrests U.S. sailors
‘Why we are about to give them sanctions relief?’
Iran seized 10 U.S. sailors on Tuesday as President Obama prepared to give his final State of the Union speech. He still touted this summer’s nuclear deal anyway.
“We built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran,” Obama declared. “As we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.”
CNN host Jake Tapper pushed White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest to explain how Obama could engage in an exercise of self-congratulation after such a clear provocation by Iran. The sailors and their two ships were taken into Iranian custody near Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf.
“What do you say to people who say Iran fired upon, not hit, but fired a warning shot of sorts toward an American ship in the last couple of weeks … they test-fired a ballistic missile in the past couple of weeks, and yet, in a few days, they are scheduled to have the relief of all those sanctions?” Tapper said. “The basic question being: This does not seem like a country that is ready to be welcomed back to the community of nations.”
Earnest said Obama’s nuclear deal was a separate issue from Iran’s support for terrorism, missile tests and other attempts to undermine U.S. foreign policy.
“I hear you, but they have 10 American sailors in custody right now, Josh. I think there are probably a lot of Americans watching right now that are wondering why we are about to give them sanctions relief when they have 10 Americans – wherever they have them. In a boat, in a cell, whatever,” said Tapper, the Blaze reported.
The seizure comes days before the U.S. unfreezes roughly $100 billion in Iranian assets.
White House Communications Director Jen Psaki made the same case while speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer before the State of the Union address, prompting the host to respond, “If the president does mention Iran, does mention the Iran nuclear deal and praises it without even mentioning anything about these 10 American sailors, that could be awkward.”
“We’ve always said that there are still concerns we have with Iran,” replied Psaki, Mediaite reported. “They’re still a state-sponsor of terror. They are still holding American citizens. There are things we remain concerned about.”
A Pentagon spokesman told the Associated Press that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard detained the American sailors as they traveled between Kuwait and Bahrain.
Iran, which said it would return the sailors “promptly,” said GPS equipment taken from the U.S. ships would “prove that the American ships where ‘snooping’ around in Iranian waters,” the New York Times reported.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, did not share the White House’s nonchalance over the issue.
“I think it endangers everything. I really do,” said Engel, the Washington Examiner reported. “I’m outraged, and Iran needs to release these people as soon as possible or else it would be unthinkable or impossible to make further progress with them on anything as far as I am concerned.”