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Kerry Says U.S. Pressed Iran on American Prisoners

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday defended the Obama administration’s work to free Americans held in Iran, saying he had raised the issue at every meeting in final bargaining over the nuclear dispute and was “very, very hopeful.”

Mr. Kerry’s remarks on the imprisoned Americans, during an interview on MSNBC about the negotiations, came against a backdrop of heightened sensitivity over the unresolved issue.

Critics of the administration’s approach have suggested that the United States squandered a moment of maximum leverage at the height of the nuclear negotiations by not securing the release of the Americans before it agreed to the final pact, which was announced on Tuesday.

Iran has incarcerated three American citizens — Amir Hekmati, 31, Saeed Abedini, 35, and Jason Rezaian, 39. A fourth American, Robert A. Levinson, 67, has been missing since he vanished in Iran eight years ago.

The imprisoned Americans and their families and supporters have asserted they are innocent of any wrongdoing and have accused Iran of using them as hostages to gain concessions from the United States.

Iran has accused all three, in varying degrees of severity, of harmful acts against the country. It considers them to be Iranians because they have family ties in Iran. Iranian officials have said they know nothing about the whereabouts of Mr. Levinson, a retired F.B.I. agent.

“There was not a meeting that took place — not one meeting that took place, believe that’s not an exaggeration — where we did not raise the issue of our American citizens being held,” Mr. Kerry said on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe.”

Mr. Kerry also said the prisoner issue was the last thing he had discussed with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in the moments just before they participated in the formal announcement of a successful nuclear negotiation with ministers from the other countries involved — Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany.

“We remain very, very hopeful that Iran will make the decision to do the right thing and to return those citizens to the United States,” Mr. Kerry said. “And we are consistently, constantly even now continuing to work on that.”

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(via NY Times)