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Hook Calls For Release Of All American Prisoners, Iran Hardliners Frown At Talks With U.S.

Michael White, a freed U.S. Navy veteran detained in Iran since 2018, poses with U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook while on his return to the United States at Zurich Airport in Zurich, June 4, 2020

Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State on Friday called for the release of the remaining American prisoners in Iran while Iranian hardliners vehemently dismissed any negotiations with the United States.

"The United States calls for the release of U.S. citizens Baqer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, and Morad Tahbaz, who have been wrongfully detained in Iran for too long," Hook said at a June 5 Department of State briefing following securing the release of U.S. Navy veteran Michael White who was wrongfully jailed in Iran for nearly two years. "And we also demand a full accounting of the fate of Robert Levinson," he added.

"This is now the second successful diplomatic negotiation we’ve had securing the release of two Americans with no sanctions relief, no change in policy, no pallets of cash," Hook noted.

The first U.S. prisoner released from an Iranian jail was Xiyue Wang who had been held in Evin Prison in Tehran on false charges of espionage for over three years. Xiyue Wang was released following a process Brian Hook called "our first breakthrough" in negotiations with Iran.

Referring to White's case, Hook added: " Yesterday, American diplomacy paid off again. We negotiated the release of a second American" from an Iranian jail".

In early March the United States negotiated White’s medical furlough on humanitarian grounds. The furlough was conditioned upon his staying in Iran, but the U.S. kept up the diplomacy and finally secured his full release on June 4.

During the briefing, Hook reassured the families of those Americans who are still wrongfully detained in Iran that the United States will not stop working until their loved ones were back with them. "While we are pleased that Iran was constructive in the last two negotiations, there’s still more work to do," he said.

Earlier, President Trump thanked Iran and reminded Tehran upon White's release that negotiations were doable. He advised Iranian leaders: "Don't wait until after U.S. election to make the big deal. I am going to win. You will make a better deal now!".

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif swiftly responded in a tweet that Iran had a deal when Trump entered office. "Iran and other JCPOA [nuclear agreement] participants never left the table. Your advisers -- most fired by now -- made a dumb bet. [It is] up to you to decide when you want to fix it," he wrote.

Other politicians' responses were even more unwelcoming. The Speaker of parliament Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said on Friday that accepting President Trump's offer of a "big deal" would be tantamount to "making peace with infidels."

Iran's former hardline diplomat Amir Abdollahian who has always had tough stances regarding Iran's foreign policy tweeted that Trump cannot order the killing of Soleimani at Baghdad airport and at the same time reach out to Iran in a peaceful gesture.

Former IRGC commander and current Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei wrote in a tweet: "Even if you manage to come out of the quagmire you have created for yourself, still negotiating with you is like poison".

In several comments, Twitter users reminded Rezaei that he has no responsibility in the area of foreign policy.

Meanwhile, one new hardliner lawmakers, Mohsen Pirhadi, even warned other Iranian officials not to negotiate with the U.S. "No one is allowed to negotiate with the killer of Haj Qassem [Soleimani], we are the United States' enemy, particularly now that they do not stop corruption and bloodshed," he tweeted.

Dozens of other social media users reminded Pirhadi that he was not in a position to decide on the negotiations with the United States.

On the other hand, the Iranian Foreign Ministry that usually denies any negotiations between Iranian and U.S. diplomats over any matter including a prisoner swap, changed its position on Friday when the Ministry's spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi acknowledged that Iranian and U.S. diplomats had been talking about the matter for "months."