The U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien says the Trump administration would like to see more detained Americans released by Iran, after a weekend exchange of prisoners between Tehran and Washington.
Speaking on ABC’s Face the Nation, O’Brien said Donald Trump has been able to free “more wrongfully detained Americans that are hostages than any president in my lifetime. And he’s done it without paying concession”.
O’Brien’s reference to paying for release of hostages goes back to the Obama administration that in 2016 sent cash to Tehran to free four detainees. Critics say that making such concessions to countries that wrongfully detain foreigners encourages more hostage-taking behavior.
O’Brien was asked if the latest exchange of detainees “provides an opening for direct talks”. He replied, “I hope so”, adding that Trump has offered to hold talks “with the Ayatollah”.
President Trump has offered to hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is not an Ayatollah. O’Brien probably used the word in a figurative way.
He was also asked if the prisoner exchange was pre-conditioned on holding direct talks, but his answer was cut short by a repeat of the question. When he finally answered, O’Brien began explaining Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy toward Iran, adding that in the meantime the U.S. “would love to sit down” and talk with Iranians about the other detainees.