Victims of Iran hostage crisis demand compensation in nuclear deal

Victims of Iran hostage crisis demand compensation in nuclear deal
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Americans who were held hostage in Iran from 1979 to 1981 are pushing the Obama administration to demand that they be compensated as part of any nuclear deal.

Dozens of the hostages and their families will meet with lawmakers' staffs early next week to reiterate their call for compensation from Iran, which has gone unanswered in the 35 years since they were held prisoner.

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonOutside money pours into marquee House race Lawmakers move to establish new VA office ordered by Trump GOP senators on Comey firing: Where they stand MORE (R-Ga.) has filed two amendments to Iran legislation that would "ensure that resolving the issue of compensation for hostages is considered" prior to any nuclear agreement, a source familiar with the amendments told The Hill.

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Isakson proposed the amendments to legislation introduced by Sens. Bob CorkerBob CorkerClinton administration official knocks 'soap opera' of Trump White House Trump's steps on Iran show cooperation with Congress is possible Senate GOP short on ideas for stabilizing ObamaCare markets MORE (R-Tenn.) and Robert MenendezRobert MenendezThe Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see Taiwan deserves to participate in United Nations The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump MORE (D-N.J.) that would require congressional review of any deal the administration brokers with Tehran. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to move forward with the legislation on Tuesday.

A State Department official noted that the administration has in the past backed Isakson's bipartisan efforts on compensating the hostages, but suggested the issue would not be part of the nuclear talks.

"As to current negotiations with Iran, we have been clear in saying that the ongoing nuclear talks are focused on one issue and one issue only — ensuring that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon," the official said.

The official said the administration remains "deeply grateful to the former hostages for their service to this country."

"[We] understand their frustration in securing compensation," the official said. "We will continue to work with Congress on this important issue."

Isakson isn’t backing down and said it is "more appropriate than ever that we compensate the victims of the Iran hostage crisis who were forced to endure unimaginable fear, despair and torture for 444 days."

"We owe it to them and their families to see to it that the nation of Iran compensates them for the damages perpetrated upon them before reducing sanctions imposed on Iran or normalizing diplomatic relations with Iran," Isakson said.

An aide to Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinWorries mount about vacancies in Trump's State Department Pence marks Armed Forces Day with vow to rebuild military Trump's steps on Iran show cooperation with Congress is possible MORE (D-Md.), who is the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, said Cardin "supports compensation for the hostages and supports the Committee again acting on this measure."

"But it is more likely the amendment would move concurrently than be included in the Corker-Menendez bill under consideration," the aide said.

Sources close to the hostages and their families say they are asking for upward of $4.4 million each, with their spouses and direct family members eligible for about $2 million.

The fate of the 53 hostages gripped the nation in 1979, when students overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held all but one for 444 days. The hostage crisis became a staple of the nightly news and was a foreign policy nightmare for then-President Jimmy Carter, contributing to his election loss in 1980.

"During this period of time when we're talking about relaxing sanctions against Iran — this is really our last shot," said Don Cooke, one of the hostages, who is now 60. "If we move toward normalizing our relations with Iran without resolving this, then the issue of hostage compensation is pretty much a lost cause."

The Algiers Accords, which ended the hostage crisis in 1981, states that the hostages would not be able to sue Tehran. Since then, there have been multiple failed attempts at winning compensation.

"We're reaching a point where it's time to settle up," Cooke said. "If we're going to establish a serious, verifiable, binding agreement with Iran, then it's time for Iran to come clean and admit its role in the hostage crisis. Pay us compensation."

Cooke said the time spent in captivity has had lifelong consequences for the hostages and their families, including mental health problems. He said he still thinks frequently about his time in Tehran.

On several occasions, Cooke said his incarcerators would force the hostages to stare at a wall in the compound's basement. The captors would then fire guns behind them to make them think they were about to be killed.

"And I remember having the most screwed up thought: 'If they're going to shoot us, they should take us outside where there's drains and hoses. That'd make it easier for them to clean up our blood," Cooke said.

"I was 25 years old, one of the younger guys in the group. So when I got out — I realized that I needed to make more of my life. When you have freedom taken away from you, in many ways, it really drives home the meaning of freedom."