WASHINGTON — The issue of the American citizens detained in Iran was raised by U.S. negotiators during the process of negotiating the deal on Iran's nuclear program, a senior White House official said on Monday.
"We raised two issues with the Iranians in our discussions with them," Deputy National security adviser Ben Rhodes said on CNN on Monday. "One is the nuclear program; the other is Americans detained in Iran."
"President Obama raised it with President Rouhani when they spoke," Rhodes said. "We raised it at a working level on the margins of the P5+1 talks. That includes this pastor. It also includes other Americans. For instance, we've been concerned about, of course, the whereabouts of Bob Levinson, who's been missing for a long time."
Rhodes called the detainees "another issue we raised regularly with the Iranians, and we have said to them it would be the right thing to do not just for legal purposes, but humanitarian purposes, to let these Americans come home."
The actual interim nuclear deal that world powers reached with Iran over the weekend does not include any stipulations on Iran's continued detention of Green Movement leaders nor its detention of American citizens, two omissions that have invited criticism from some conservative quarters.
A source close to the negotiations said that the issue of the detained Americans was likely brought up during secret U.S.-Iran talks led by deputy secretary of state Bill Burns, as well.
A day after the deal was reached, the FBI put out a new release on Levinson, who is now one of the longest-held Americans in history after being captured in Iran in 2007. His whereabouts are unknown. Pastor Saeed Abedini is also still imprisoned in Iran.
A spokesperson for the State Department declined to comment on the extent to which the imprisoned Americans figured into the talks.