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Obama urges release of US prisoners in Iran

Obama urges release of US prisoners in Iran
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President Obama on Friday urged Iran to return four U.S. citizens who are imprisoned or missing there, including a former U.S. Marine and a Washington Post reporter. 

The president’s words come as the U.S., Iran, and other world powers are working to reach a nuclear agreement by the end of March.  

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Obama marked the Persian New Year celebration of Nowruz this week as an appropriate time for the Iranian government to release three Americans from prison, Saeed Abidini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian, and locate another, Robert Levinson, who is missing.

“At this time of renewal, compassion, and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home,” Obama said in a statement. 

Obama called for the “immediate release” of the three prisoners and urged Iran to “work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson so that they all can be safely reunited with their families as soon as possible.”  

Abedini is an Iranian-American Christian pastor who was detained in 2012 on charges tied to his religious beliefs. 

Hekmati is a former U.S. Marine who was imprisoned more than three years ago on espionage charges, which the U.S. government and his family say are false. Hekmati’s family has alleged he has been tortured and abused while in custody. 

“His family, including his father who is gravely ill, has borne the pain of Amir's absence for far too long,” Obama said. 

Rezaian is The Washington Post’s Teheran bureau chief and was arrested last July. Iranian authorities have failed to make his charges public. 

“It is especially painful that on a holiday centered on ridding one’s self of the difficulties of the past year, Jason’s mother and family will continue to carry the heavy burden of concern regarding Jason’s health and well-being into the new year,” Obama said. 

Levinson, a private investigator, was reportedly taken hostage on Iran’s Kish Island in 2007. 

The Obama administration has launched a PR offensive on Iran as nuclear talks enter a critical stretch. 

In a Nowruz message, the president encouraged Iran’s leaders to seize a “historic” opportunity to strike a nuclear deal, which would limit Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon in exchange for lifting international sanctions. The White House also held a Nowruz celebration last weekend. 

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday extended condolences to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose mother recently passed away.