A former U.S. hostage in Iran is set to begin a hunger strike in Vienna on Wednesday to press U.S. and Iranian officials to come to an agreement about the release of Americans and other Westerners of Iranian origin jailed by Tehran. He hopes the move will help to break a months-long stalemate in indirect prisoner talks between the two sides.

In a Tuesday interview with VOA Persian, Barry Rosen said he will try to raise the prisoner issue in any meetings with U.S. and Iranian diplomats in the Austrian capital. The two sides have engaged in separate indirect talks there about reviving a 2015 deal for Iran to constrain its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief from the United States and other world powers.

Rosen said he will stage his hunger strike in front of Vienna’s Palais Coburg hotel, the main venue for the talks about the 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. He said he intends to head to the hotel after arriving in Vienna on Wednesday at 8 a.m. local time on a flight from New York.

Rosen, 77, was among 52 Americans taken hostage in Tehran by Islamists who seized the U.S. embassy in 1979, when an Islamic Revolution overthrew a U.S.-backed monarchy.

His planned Vienna hunger strike will coincide with the 41st anniversary of Iran’s Islamist rulers releasing him and the other Americans on January 20, 1980. It also is aimed at raising awareness about the plight of at least a dozen Iranians with dual nationalities, four of them Americans, who are detained in Iran or barred from leaving the country.

The United States considers the detainees to be hostages falsely accused by Iran of security offenses so that it can use them as bargaining chips to extract diplomatic concessions from the West. Iran insists any dual nationals whom it releases should be part of a prisoner swap including a release by the U.S. of Iranians charged with or convicted of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and other offenses.

Rosen said both the Biden administration and Iran should change their approach to indirect prisoner swap talks that began last April in Vienna in tandem with the JCPOA talks. Mediators from European powers, Russia and China have exchanged messages between the two sides.

For the United States, Rosen said a new approach would mean telling Iran to release the detainees before any agreement to revive the JCPOA is reached. “And (if) there is a (nuclear) deal, I want to make sure that Iran knows that if they take hostages again, whatever is negotiated is over completely,” he said.

Rosen said such an approach would honor President Biden’s pledge to make the promotion of human rights a priority in American foreign policy.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a VOA request for comment on whether any U.S. officials will meet with Rosen in Vienna and what they think about his call for the U.S. to make the freeing of Americans and other Westerners in Iran a precondition for a JCPOA deal.

In a December briefing with reporters, a senior State Department official said “there is not a time … when we’re in Vienna (in which) we don’t seek to convey to Iran our interest and the urgency in finding a solution that brings them all back home.”

The official also reiterated the U.S. position that the Biden administration does not want to make the release of the detainees a condition for a JCPOA deal. “Our view is the release of the hostages should occur no matter what, and we’ll continue to press it whether the JCPOA is ongoing or not,” the official said.

A spokesman for the government of former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who left office in August, had said the previous month that Tehran was willing to exchange prisoners with the United States as a humanitarian gesture, provided that such a swap includes the release of Iranians detained in the U.S. and in unspecified other countries “at the behest of America.”

Barbara Slavin, an Iran analyst at the Washington-based Atlantic Council and an advocate of reviving the JCPOA, told VOA she sympathizes with Rosen but does not believe the United States should condition a JCPOA deal on Iran releasing the Western dual nationals.

“The nuclear talks are difficult enough. Also, Iran should release these people whether the Vienna negotiations succeed or not,” she wrote in a Tuesday message.

In his VOA interview, Rosen said he also will try to press Iranian negotiators in Vienna to change their approach to a prisoner swap by urging them to return to Iran’s cultural tradition of being hospitable toward guests and visitors. “Iranians know how important it is to think of the connectivity between them and other people in the world,” Rosen said. “This is a culture that is over 2,500 years old. But under this regime, Iran is acting as if it were a country of wild animals. Iranian leaders should be ashamed of themselves.”

Rosen said he had not heard from any Iranian officials about whether they would accept his request to meet with them.

Slavin said she believes the best way to persuade Iran to change course is to show that it hurts itself by scaring away dual nationals from visiting the country for fear of not being able to leave. “Iran will never reach anything close to its potential while it continues to alienate much of its diaspora and remains estranged from the U.S.,” she said.

Source » voanews