The White House on Wednesday warned that President Barack Obama would veto any legislation that made a nuclear deal with Iran contingent on the release of American prisoners.
An amendment to do just that was introduced this week by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.
The amendment was among four submitted by Blunt, a Republican, to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.
The bipartisan bill is a compromise hammered out between Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland that would ensure congressional review of an agreement with Iran.
The bill is expected to come to a vote in the Senate this week, but amendments like Blunt’s have revived veto threats from the White House.
Blunt’s measure would add language to the bill that makes the agreement contingent on the release of three Americans in Iranian custody: Saeed Abedini, a pastor; Amir Hekmati, a former Marine; and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. It also would require the administration to certify that Iran is working with American officials to locate and return FBI official Robert Levinson to the U.S.
Blunt’s other three amendments would require the administration to clarify U.S. policy toward an underground uranium enrichment facility in Iran, extend an annual Pentagon report on Iran’s military capabilities for a decade, and provide Congress with an assessment of nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea.
“My goal is to make the bill better,” Blunt said in a press call with Missouri reporters on Wednesday. “I don’t think (the amendment) kills the bill. I think these are issues that need to be debated.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday that Blunt’s amendment requiring the release of U.S. citizens in Iranian custody would directly undermine the unanimous compromised reached din the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and would interfere with the ongoing negotiations between the international community and Iran.
Earnest said he’s confident that there will be strong opposition to Blunt’s amendments and others like them, mostly offered by Republican senators.
“But this is a process that will have to play out,” he said.
Blunt’s call for Hekmati’s release echoes a campaign by Veterans of Foreign Wars, the national veterans group based in Kansas City, Mo., to link the Marine veteran’s freedom to a potential deal with Iran.
“It’s what America does for her citizens — we bring them home,” said VFW National Commander John W. Stroud in a statement earlier this month. Stroud said he is particularly concerned about reports that Hekmati is being tortured.
Hekmati, a native of Flint, Mich., was arrested in Iran in 2011. Iranian authorities accused of spying, and sentenced him to death.