Bipartisan anger builds in Congress over Iran’s detention of U.S. sailors

Special to WorldTribune.com

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle expressed outrage over Iran’s detention of 10 U.S. Navy personnel and what was seen as a significant humiliation of the United States due to weak leadership from the Obama administration.

“The IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps) communicated the message to the domestic and the international audience … and humiliated the U.S.,” Ali Alfoneh, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post.

U.S. sailors detained by Iran.
U.S. sailors detained by Iran.

Meanwhile the White House is intent on proceeding with the Iran nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions on Iran as Congress is preparing to vote on a measure to block the lifting of the sanctions.

Harold Rhode, a distinguished senior fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute pointed out that much of the equipment on the U.S. boats was of high interest to Iran.

“In the Middle East, when people smell weakness, they pounce,” said Rhode. “Most amazingly from the Iranian point of view,” he continued, “is that they captured these sailors right before Obama’s State of the Union speech, and the president didn’t even mention it.”

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton said Iran was intent on embarrassing President Barack Obama and the U.S. by seizing two patrol boats just hours before Obama’s final State of the Union address. The boats were traveling from Kuwait to Bahrain on Jan. 12 when they strayed into Iranian territorial waters around Farsi Island, due to mechanical failure.

“I don’t think the timing of this intercept of our two naval vessels in the Persian Gulf is coincidental,” Cotton told CNN.

“First off, it’s humiliating Barack Obama, and therefore the United States, to have American sailors held hostage during his final State of the Union.

“Second… the nuclear deal is about to be implemented, maybe as early as this week, in which Iran is going to get over $100 billion to continue its campaign of terror and aggression throughout the region and around the world.”

Obama made no mention the incident in his State of the Union address while celebrating the breakthrough nuclear agreement with Iran.

Cotton also blasted U.S. officials who said Iran had “no sign of hostile intent” as it seized the patrol boats. Secretary of State John Kerry, in fact, expressed “gratitude” to Iran for releasing the sailors on Jan. 12.

“Think about that for a second,” Cotton said. “Senior members of Barack Obama’s administration are apologizing for Iran seizing two U.S. Navy vessels and holding 10 sailors hostage.”

“The White House tonight is a hotbed of cold feet,” he added.

The Obama administration denied that it issued an apology to Iran over the incident and it remains unclear whether there was a secret deal or promise that facilitated the release of the sailors.

While the sailors were still being detained by Iran, Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel said he was “outraged, and Iran needs to release these people as soon as possible or else it would be unthinkable or impossible to make further progress with them on anything as far as I am concerned,” including the implementation of the nuclear agreement.

“I think it endangers everything, I really do,” Engel told the Washington Examiner.

“President Obama and his administration seemed more intent on protecting Iran and protecting their nuclear deal than getting our sailors back,” Cotton added.

The House of Representatives on Jan. 13 voted on a measure to block Obama from lifting sanctions on the Teheran regime. Republicans pointed to Iran’s violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, including two recent tests of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

The Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act passed by a vote of 191 to 106, but the vote was canceled because nearly a third of lawmakers in the 435-member chamber were absent.

“While we’ll continue to make that a priority, because many members missed this important vote, it was vacated and we’ll re-vote when we return,” an aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan told AFP.

The vote is to be rescheduled for the week of Jan. 25.

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