Back in March 2015, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) placed the highest priority on seeking the release of Americans held in Iran. He, along with 18 of his Senate GOP colleagues, wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry to urge him “to bring up these cases during communications with Iran and demand the unconditional release of these Americans.” The following month, he joined Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in publicly calling on the Obama administration to link nuclear negotiations to the release of Americans held in Iran.
Kirk is a hardline Iran hawk who consistently opposes the White House’s diplomatic efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, but no one questioned Kirk’s sincerity in seeking the release of Americans held in Iran—until now.
In a radio interview on Thursday, Kirk completely abandoned his previous stance of prioritizing the release of Americans. He told WGN Radio’s Steve Cochran [my emphasis]:
But you know, we didn’t have to get our guys back. We shouldn’t have paid the ransom. The irony is the State Department, shortly after the payment was made, issued a worldwide travel alert to Americans saying, ‘you know there are a lot of people out there looking to kidnap an American in return for a ransom payment.’
Kirk’s staff tried to walk back his “we didn’t have to get our guys back” position, telling Andrew Kaczynski and Nathaniel Meyersohn at Buzzfeed News:
Senator Kirk has been clear that paying ransom for American hostages to the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism puts more Americans in danger and believes the Iranian prisoners released from the U.S. to Iran should have been the sole basis for exchange.
But Kirk’s office didn’t directly deny the senator’s new position that getting Americans released was a lower priority than he had previously suggested and repeated the fallacy that a “ransom” was paid.
“It’s that classic definition of a Washington, DC gaffe: Saying the thing that’s true but you aren’t supposed to say,” Stephen Miles, director of Win Without War, told LobeLog. “The GOP hysteria about Americans held in Iran was never actually about that.”
Miles, whose group supported the Iran nuclear agreement, continued:
The GOP hysteria about Americans held in Iran was never actually about that. You’re hugely worried about nuclear work in Iran, but you won’t let the US take heavy water out of the country. You’re deeply worried about Iran working on a bomb, but you’re even more upset about a deal that makes them further from a bomb. It’s a lack of concern because there’s a lack of accountability. Mark Kirk just said the true thing. It has to make you wonder what his ultimate intentions really are.
A year ago, he was saying the most important thing was to get Americans home. If that isn’t true, then what is it really about?
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who is challenging Kirk in his reelection race, blasted Kirk’s comments, saying:
Mark Kirk was in the Navy and he should know that our country doesn’t leave its people behind. I’m sure thankful my comrades didn’t forget that when my Black Hawk was shot down over enemy territory. Saying we don’t have an obligation to ‘get our guys back’ from a hostile country like Iran is unacceptable. Whenever Americans are imprisoned by our adversaries, we don’t leave them behind. That’s not who we are.
Kirk isn’t alone in expressing discontent with the Obama administration’s success in negotiating the release of American captives in Iran. He joins a long list of Iran hawks who advocate for a more aggressive U.S. policy that prioritizes regime change in Tehran ahead of curtailing Iran’s nuclear program or securing the release of Americans held in Iran.