Former UNICEF official Baquer Namazi was detained in Iran nearly three years ago. His son is urging Tehran to let his 82-year-old father leave the country for medical treatment. Namazi is one of several Americans held in Iran.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
It's hard to imagine relations between the U.S. and Iran getting much worse. But that could happen if an Iranian-American dies in custody in Iran. That grim possibility is being raised by the son of Baquer Namazi. The former UNICEF official was detained in Iran nearly three years ago. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In recent months, 82-year-old Baquer Namazi has been out of prison on medical leave but confined to the country. His son Babak Namazi says his father has heart problems, dizziness and vertigo.
BABAK NAMAZI: And unfortunately to our horror, he was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 82. For me, it was shocking.
KELEMEN: Babak Namazi brother's Siamak remains in an Iranian jail too, convicted in a secret trial for collaborating with a hostile state. U.N. human rights experts say both men were detained arbitrarily. Babak Namazi is focused right now on his father, begging Iranian officials to let the former UNICEF official leave the country before he dies.
NAMAZI: I need to implore and beg the Iranian government to show mercy - to show the Islamic mercy. We're dealing with an 82-year-old man who has dedicated his entire life to serving humanity. And it's time for him to be able to come back and get immediate and proper medical attention. I fear the worse.
KELEMEN: He and his lawyer Jared Genser made the rounds in Washington recently, urging Trump administration officials to open a dialogue with Iran. Genser is also urging Iran to show mercy and soon.
JARED GENSER: To forestall what would be not only a devastating outcome for the Namazi themselves, first and foremost, but also, I believe, a really dramatic and terribly damaging incident that would further exacerbate the tensions between the United States and Iran in very serious and even irreparable ways.
KELEMEN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Trump administration works every day to get back all Americans wrongfully detained overseas. That includes the Namazis, a Princeton University graduate student and a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007.
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MIKE POMPEO: We're determined to get them back. As President Trump has made very clear, we're not going to pay a price for their return. But we are prepared to work with all those who can assist us in getting those Americans returned to their families and returned here to our country.
KELEMEN: The Obama administration released frozen Iranian assets and some Iranians from U.S. jails to get five Americans out of Iran in 2016, just as the nuclear deal went into force. The Trump administration pulled out of that deal and is reimposing sanctions to pressure Iran to change its behavior in the region. It also wants Iran to release Americans. The Carnegie Endowment's Karim Sadjadpour, who's a friend of the Namizis, says families of the detained Americans are worried about this all-or-nothing approach.
KARIM SADJADPOUR: We're waiting on Iran to essentially change its long-standing regional behavior - or its missile programs, its support for radical groups - as part of the larger package, which also includes releasing American hostages. You know, that's letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
KELEMEN: And Sadjadpour sees no signs of any real dialogue between the U.S. and Iran over the prisoners. Nor, he says, has Iran shown any signs of magnanimity. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.
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