Former Iran Hostage Voices Support for Diplomacy with Iran on Capitol Hill


Josh Fattal, and FCNL's Kate Gould and Maiya Zwerling lobby Senator Angus King (ME)

Long before Josh Fattal was released from Evin Prison in Iran, it had become abundantly clear to him and the rest of the world that his imprisonment had little do to with himself. Josh had found himself a victim of the over-thirty year rift that has consumed U.S.-Iran relations. Two years before, an Iranian patrol detained Josh, along with his two friends Shane Bauer and Sarah Shroud, at the Iraqi Kurdistan border during a vacation hike. Despite the fact that they spoke no Farsi and had no Iranian money between them, the government charged them with espionage. Only through negotiations brokered by Oman – much of which occurred through back channels – did Josh, Shane, and Sarah reach freedom.
The progress U.S. and Iranian diplomats have made today toward an end stage nuclear accord builds on the success of the back channel negotiations to secure the release of the three Americans imprisoned in Iran. As a living example of the pain caused by the U.S.-Iran governmental dispute, Josh hopes for a settlement to the country’s differences. That’s why, last week, Josh Fattal joined the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) to share his message with lawmakers that we must let diplomacy work with Iran.

Former Hostage Josh Fattal and Ambassador Bill Miller speak at a Briefing on Iran

Josh’s visit to Washington comes at a crucial moment for the ongoing efforts to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff. July 20th marked the six month anniversary of the first-step nuclear deal. It also marked the soft deadline for a final deal that could prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon or the United States from launching a devastating war over the issue. On Friday, Foreign Ministers from the seven nations involved in the talks announced they would extend this deadline to allow enough time to address the complexities of the negotiations. Even before Iranian and U.S. foreign ministers made this joint announcement, national security, political and nuclear experts and newspaper editorial boards had already called for the continuation of negotiations, if necessary. In their editorial published on July 17th, the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board argued:

“It’s essential that Congress continue to give President Obama room to continue negotiations and avoid making demands that would foreclose the possibility of an agreement. The risks of continued negotiations are minimal, but the potential benefits – both in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and opening the door for cooperation on other issues – are tremendous.”

While in Washington, Josh spoke with members of Congress and their staff about supporting the nuclear negotiations. Ambassador William Green Miller, the Senior Advisor to the U.S.-Iran Program at the Search for Common Ground, also joined these visits. Ambassador Miller spent decades in the Foreign Service including years in Iran, and played a pivotal role in the back channel discussions that helped to secure Josh’s release.

From left to right: FCNL's Maiya Zwerling and Kate Gould, Rep. Blumenauer (OR-3), Ambassador Miller, Josh Fattal

Together, they spoke before dozens of congressional staff during a briefing: “How Diplomacy with Iran Can Work: A Former U.S. Diplomat in Iran and a Former Hostage Tell Their Stories” organized by the Friends Committee on National Legislation, where they argued that before the U.S. and Iran can talk about regional and human right issues in a constructive way, a nuclear deal must be agreed upon.
They impressed upon members of congress with whom they met – including Senator Angus King (ME) and Senator Jack Reed (RI) – that ensuring a secure and stable region depends upon a peaceful resolution to this conflict in the here and now.
The ongoing nuclear discussions provide a historic opportunity to lead us into a new era of U.S.-Iran relations. We can prevent others from being victimized by the hostile relations between our countries and lift up the voices of Iranians who seek a more peaceful and just world.
In Josh’s words: “A permanent accord that limits Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for a lifting of sanctions would make my relatives in Israel safer. It would make my family in the United States safer. And it would strengthen the hand of the brave Iranians I met in the dark corridors of Evin Prison in their continuing struggle for democracy.”
Maiya Zwerling is the Middle East Policy program assistant at the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, D.C. She lobbies in support of a negotiated settlement to the Iran nuclear standoff and to promote a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. She grew up in a tight-knit Jewish community in Portland, Oregon. You can follow her on Twitter.

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