WASHINGTON -- Tuesday's announcement of a deal between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers restricting the controversial Iranian nuclear program has drastically cut the risks of future U.S. conflict in the Middle East, secured a legacy achievement for President Barack Obama and shown that diplomacy can bear fruit even on issues once thought intractable.
But it offers no certainty about the future of four American prisoners who remain trapped in Iran, unable to return to their families and still subject to opaque judicial processes few fully understand. The Obama administration maintained throughout the negotiating process that it wanted the talks with Iran to focus exclusively on nuclear security, lest Tehran try to leverage the imprisoned Americans to win concessions on other issues important to the U.S. Still, U.S. negotiators said they raised the plight of the Americans each time they met with their Iranian counterparts.
Three of the Americans -- Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian -- are held in Iranian prisons under charges relating to state security. The fourth, Robert Levinson, has been missing since 2007 and few details have emerged about his captivity.
Families of the four beleaguered Americans on Tuesday made fresh appeals.
"The governments of the United States and Iran have worked together to reach this agreement," Christine Levinson, Robert Levinson's wife, said in a statement provided to The Huffington Post. "They need to continue working together with the same sense of urgency to resolve Bob's case and return him home to his family as soon as possible. Bob has been held against his will for more than eight years. This nightmare must end."
Levinson, 67, a former FBI agent who was in Iran on a mismanaged CIA mission, is the longest-held American hostage in U.S. history.
Hekmati, 31, has spent the longest time as a publicly acknowledged prisoner of the Iranian authorities. An Iranian-American, he is considered purely Iranian by the Iranian government and has been charged with aiding a foreign government -- presumably that of the country he grew up in and served as a Marine. His family struck an optimistic note following news of the nuclear agreement, suggesting that Iran might use its moment in the spotlight to demonstrate clemency.
“While Amir himself has said that he should not be part of any nuclear deal, his immediate release would demonstrate a strong gesture of good faith to the international community following the successful end of the negotiations and enhance any agreement’s prospects in the U.S. Congress," the Hekmati family said in a statement provided to The Huffington Post.
The statement added that next month will mark four years since Hekmati was placed in one of Iran's most notorious prisons, Evin. "We pray Amir does not reach this milestone," the Hekmati family said.
This month does however mark a milestone for one of the other American captives. Jason Rezaian, 39, an experienced Tehran-based reporter with The Washington Post who, like Hekmati, has spent significant time in solitary confinement since he was arrested in July 2014, "wishes he could be covering this wonderful story about what's happening between Iran and the rest of the world," his mother Mary Rezaian told ABC News on Monday as she stood beside her sobbing daughter-in-law in Iran. "But unfortunately, he's been in prison for the last year."
Rezaian's mother made the comment outside the third hearing in her son's case. There is no sign of when the next hearing is scheduled.
"The outcome of the nuclear deal does not change Jason’s cruel and illegal imprisonment for the past 356 days,” said the reporter's brother, Ali Rezaian, on Tuesday. Jason Rezaian, 39, has -- like Hekmati -- spent significant time in solitary confinement since he was arrested in July 2014. The New York Times reported Monday that he has lost 40 pounds while incarcerated.
Saeed Abedini, 35, was initially held in the same prison as Rezaian and Hekmati, but in 2013 was moved to a facility his advocates describe as even more brutal than Evin. Born in Iran, Abedini, a convert to Christianity, has been held since September 2012 on charges believed to relate to his attempts to spread his faith.
Abedini's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, clarified Tuesday morning that the nuclear deal with Iran did not offer her Iranian-American husband a pathway home to Idaho.
Naghmeh Abedini noted that the Obama administration had not said the deal would involve Abedini's release. The American Center for Law and Justice, Saeed Abedini's representative, said that oversight meant the agreement was "unconscionable."
A statement from Naghmeh Abedini on the center's website directly addressed members of Congress, who will now have 60 days to review the agreement with Iran and raise concerns or objections. "I plead with each member of Congress to review the deal with our family at the forefront of their thoughts," the statement reads. "Congress holds the key to bringing my husband home, to returning the father to my children."
One of the most vocal lawmakers on the issue has been Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents Hekmati's district. Last month, he successfully won passage of a House resolution calling on Iran to release all detained Americans immediately.
Kildee told HuffPost Tuesday that he believed the agreement improved the chances of the Americans returning to their families. "We would have been quite distressed had the negotiations not been successful because of the uncertainty that would apply to the Americans," he added.
Kildee said he did not foresee further congressional action on the hostages during the 60-day review period. But he said he believes the Iranian calculation may change even without such actions, as elites there who hope to open Iran to the world realize that the Americans will continue to complicate ties between Washington and Tehran.
"There's increasing awareness by the Iranian government that the way the world, the people of the United States and the Congress of the United States views Iran is affected by the fact that they continue to hold these Americans," Kildee said. "I think Iran knows that as they continue to hold the Americans it has become a liability."