“Whenever I tell him, ‘Oh, I wish you were there, I wish we could do it together, like when I cook something and I wish he could taste it, he always says: “Whatever happens it will happen, everything will be fine… don’t worry about me,” Ariana Shargi said.
But this time, he told Ariana that he had Thanksgiving in mind, telling her that he hoped “with all his heart” that the family could all be together in their DC-area home, how he could. make a turkey. “He’s not used to talking like that, like wishing things,” Ariana said of her father who has been held by Iran since 2018. But this time, “I think I heard it. , like his voice – crack. ”
The Biden administration insisted that the case of Emad Shargi, along with those of others held by Tehran, be separated from negotiations to bring the United States and Iran back into line with the joint comprehensive plan of action of 2015, as the nuclear deal is formally known. The pact granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
As talks resumed after a six-month hiatus with a new Iranian team appointed by the country’s recently elected conservative government, US officials continued to insist that US hostages and nuclear talks be separated.
“We want to separate them because we don’t want to hold back the release of the hostages, we don’t want to make it conditional on reaching an agreement on the JCPOA,” Rob Malley, the US special representative, told reporters. for Iran. Saturday. “Our view is that the hostage’s release should take place no matter what and we will continue to press whether the JCPOA is underway or not.”
The detained US citizens – Shargi, Baquer and Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz – are among at least 66 publicly known current cases of Americans held hostage by non-state actors or wrongly held abroad by foreign governments in 16 countries, Margaux Ewen, the executive director of the James Foley Foundation, told CNN.
The number of cases not known to the public would be much higher, she added.
Groups like his and hostage advocates fear that as nuclear talks slow down after six rounds of talks and risk collapsing again, sparking further frustration with Iran, Americans’ very real human stories taken hostage like Emad Shargi could get lost.
As talks in Vienna appear unlikely to progress anytime soon, these advocates say the Biden administration should make hostages a higher priority.
“First and foremost, they need to put people at the forefront of the discussion,” said Sarah Levinson Moriarty, whose father Robert disappeared in Iran in 2007 and is believed to have died in Iranian custody.
“We have seen time and time again that our Americans will not return home unless they are at the start of any negotiations,” she said. “It has to be a prerequisite for any deal, and I think this administration is struggling to do that, but that’s what it needs to do if it really cares about bringing our Americans home – and there is has long-suffering Americans in Iran who must be brought home. “
Moriarty told CNN that his family is hopeful that US authorities will also seek to recover his father’s remains.
“We understand and we have accepted that he passed away, but we cannot have a closure until the Iranians give us something,” she said.
“My family, we haven’t had any kind of funeral or memorial for my father yet,” she added. “He is of Jewish descent. We cannot sit Shiva for him as would be the tradition. We have nothing.”
The Shargi women – his daughters Ariana and Hannah and his wife Bahareh – are worried about Emad’s health, but recently he has had more access to the shared telephone in the infamous Evin prison in Tehran and has been able to call ” maybe every other day “for 10 minutes, says Bahareh. “I’ve been lucky enough to know him for 33 years. He’s a person who, in the worst, worst times of his life, always tries to sound great and right now he’s really trying to sound great for us. . “
The Shargis have weekly calls with administration officials who work on hostage issues, including the president’s special envoy for hostage cases Roger Carstens and his team. There have also been occasional calls with US Special Envoy to Iran Rob Malley. The meetings “are very encouraging,” Bahareh said, calling the conversations “broad”.
“They usually want to know how I’m doing, how often he’s called, how he’s feeling, how we’re doing, if there is anything they can do for us,” she says.
“Obviously, they can’t share much with us,” Ariana says. “It’s good to have support, but obviously until my dad gets home it’s tough.”
Ewen, of the James Foley Foundation, said the administration “should make the release of all Americans wrongly detained by the Iranian government a priority. This should not take precedence over other political considerations here, being given that two of those Americans have been in multiple jurisdictions, “Ewen told CNN.” This really has to be high on the agenda. “
“It’s a big world”
Ewen told CNN she believes the U.S. government and any other third-party intermediaries need to know how they get detainees back and ensure there is accountability for the abusive detention of Americans.
Price told reporters last week that when nuclear talks stalled, the United States kept in regular contact on the issue of American detainees with its allies, many of whom also have citizens arbitrarily or wrongly detained by the ‘Iran. “We don’t have a higher priority than the safety and security of Americans abroad. And of course that includes Americans unjustly detained, as is the case in Iran,” he said. .
Babak Namazi, whose father Baquer and brother Siamak are detained in Iran, was not particularly optimistic when talks resumed in Vienna, especially because there had been so little US communication with Iranian officials since the radical president Ebrahim Raisi came to power.
“With the six rounds in a row it almost seemed like, and whenever progress was made we were told that progress had also been made on the hostages,” he said. “I was much more optimistic in the previous rounds. Now I don’t know what to expect.”
Bahareh just wants the Iranian government to approach her husband’s case in a humanitarian way. “Just think of him as a human being and nothing else, as someone who has a wife, someone who has kids, someone who has two old parents who are watching the door waiting for him to come back. “, she says.
“I realize it’s a big world. There are big discussions going on. But at the end of the day, all I care about is my little family of Emad and the two daughters. We’ve been torn apart for four years, for no reason. Emad is an innocent American and we just want him to come home. “
This story has been updated with comments from the United States Special Representative for Iran.