President Barack Obama on Wednesday scolded a reporter who asked him why he was “content” with celebrating a landmark nuclear deal even though four Americans still were being held captive or were missing in Iran.
World powers struck a historic accord Tuesday to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Secretary of State John Kerry has previously said that the fate of four Americans held captive in Iran was raised in every meeting with that country’s negotiators, but the finalized deal did not change the situation.
In a press conference, CBS News’ Major Garrett brought up the four missing or detained Americans. They include Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who currently is being tried for espionage.
“Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content — with all the fanfare around this deal — to leave the conscience of this nation and the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?” Garrett asked.
“The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails –” Obama said. After a pause, he added “Major, that’s nonsense. You should know better.”
He went on to argue that tying the release of the jailed Americans to the nuclear deal would have given the Iranians more bargaining power. Obama further assured that his administration wouldn’t stop pushing for the jailed Americans’ release until they are let out and reunited with their families.
Garrett later said on CBS’ internet TV channel that he was not suggesting Obama was content with those four Americans’ situations when he asked the question.
“”My question was about the contentment, or the satisfaction or the realization that it was necessary within the context of this deal to leave them unaccounted for,” he said. “Clearly it struck a nerve. That was my intention.”
This post has been updated.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at email@example.com.