Politicians Disagree Over Prisoner Exchange with Iran

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

For President Obama, getting the Iranians to release five American hostages is vindication of his Iran policy.

“This is a good day because once again we’re seeing what’s possible with strong American diplomacy,” he said.

For Gov. Chris Christie, it’s just another weak effort by Obama.

“This is not a guy I would let negotiate buying a car for me, let alone anything else. He makes bad deals and seems to become an expert at making bad deals with the Iranians,” Christie said in Iowa.

The five Americans were exchanged for seven Iranians accused or convicted in U.S. courts of economic crimes.

Sen. Bob Menendez says he’s waiting to learn if that group includes any terrorists. He says that the prisoner swap sets a bad precedent.

When asked if he’s saying that we shouldn’t have released them, he said, “I’m saying the question becomes is the policy of the U.S. to trade for innocent Americans those who are convicted of terrorism and other acts? If that’s what we did in Cuba and that’s what we’re going to do in Iran, we’re going to send a global message that it’s OK to go ahead and capture innocent Americans because then you can use them to trade against those convicted of acts here in the U.S.”

Sen. Cory Booker takes a more sanguine view of the seven Iranians.

“Five of the seven chose to stay in the U.S. They don’t want to go to Iran. They’re Americans with dual citizenship who want to stay in this country,” Booker said. “So we got Americans back to our country who were being held in horrific conditions for no reason whatsoever. This is a good thing they’re coming home. And we’re releasing people who are no threat to our country, and who will be watched.”

The lifting of economic sanctions against Iran this weekend as part of the Iran nuclear deal seems to have been the linchpin for the prisoner swap.

Booker narrowly supported that deal.

“This is a dangerous regime. We need to continue to be aggressive against them, but having lines of communication are a good thing,” he said.

Congressman Albio Sires, like Menendez, opposed the nuclear deal.

“I’m happy we got the people back united with their families, but idea that they can just take people and then try to swap them for no reason at all. This is the same thing that happened in Cuba with Gross, Alan Gross,” Sires said.

Gov. Christie told a town hall in Iowa Saturday that President Obama has been taken advantage of.

“If we had a president who was respected around the world, we wouldn’t have these folks taken in the first place. Remember the last time we had Iranian hostages? Again, a president that the world did not respect, in Jimmy Carter, and as soon as Ronald Reagan took the oath of office, those Iranians returned our citizens immediately because they knew if they didn’t they would face the strength of character and the wrath of Ronald Reagan. We need a president like that in the White House again,” Christie said.

Political leaders on both sides of the aisle say they welcome this weekend’s prisoner swap, those who were opposed to it, like Christie and Menendez, are still opposed.