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U.S. House Calls On Iran To Release American Political Prisoners

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

When Secretary of State John Kerry met his Iranian counterpart over the weekend, they were mainly talking about nuclear negotiations focused on a deadline at the end of this month. Still, something else came up - the fate of four Americans who are either in jail or believed to be held in Iran. Their families are testifying at a congressional hearing today. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Sarah Hekmati isn't a stranger to Capitol Hill. She was here just over a month ago to talk about her brother, former Marine Amir Hekmati, who traveled to Iran in 2011 to visit his grandmother.

SARAH HEKMATI: We were all born here in the United States, and he had never been to Iran, so this was his first trip. And he went for two weeks and was spending time with family when he was taken.

KELEMEN: Her brother was accused of espionage and now faces a 10-year prison sentence. His congressman, Michigan Democrat Dan Kildee, has introduced a resolution calling on Iran to release Hekmati and other Americans.

DAN KILDEE: If Iran wants to be taken seriously as a member of the global community as they purport to do, they cannot hold political prisoners.

KELEMEN: The House Foreign Affairs Committee is also hearing from the wife of Saeed Abedini, an American pastor jailed in Iran; the brother of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, also in an Iranian prison; and the son of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the U.S. won't negotiate their release.

JOSH EARNEST: We will not allow these American citizens to be used as bargaining chips.

KELEMEN: But he says the U.S. raises these cases often on the sidelines of nuclear talks with Iran now intensifying as a June 30 deadline approaches. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. 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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