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Family Of American Imprisoned In Iran Pushes For Prisoner Swap


The family of two Americans jailed in Iran are calling on the Trump administration to consider a prisoner swap or at least to open talks to discuss their fate. They note that the U.S. talked with North Korea to free an American held there. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Babak Namazi is sounding increasingly desperate.

BABAK NAMAZI: It's been two horrific years for my brother and 20 months for my 81-year-old father, who is just getting worse and worse every day.

KELEMEN: He says his father, Baquer Namazi, underwent cardiac surgery back in September as President Trump addressed the U.N., alluding to his family's plight.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is time for the regime to free all Americans and citizens of other nations that they have unjustly detained.

KELEMEN: At the time, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson floated the idea of talks with Iran, but the U.S. says the Iranians rejected that. And the Trump administration has since unveiled a tougher approach, even throwing into question the future of the Iran nuclear deal. A lawyer for the Namazi family, Jared Genser, says he's encouraging the administration to separate these topics.

JARED GENSER: This is a humanitarian question, not a political question - the release of his father and his brother in such dire circumstances.

KELEMEN: Genser says Iran has sent signals it might trade jailed Americans for Iranians charged with sanctions busting here in the U.S. The Obama administration did that in January of 2016, but Siamak Namazi was not part of that deal. And to this day, his brother Babak doesn't understand why.

NAMAZI: It's been one of the most devastating experiences of my life.

KELEMEN: His father was arrested a month later. Namazi says there's something else that worries him. The Trump administration managed to negotiate with North Korea to get Otto Warmbier released, but that young American returned in a coma and died shortly afterwards.

NAMAZI: It shouldn't be another tragedy like Otto Warmbier's case.

KELEMEN: He's urging the White House to spare no effort to get his father and brother out alive. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "BOREAL FOREST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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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