Congress wants to know if the State Department held any influence on the U.S. Navy sailor who apologized to Iran after he and his nine other sailors were arrested and detained by the regime. The video, which aired on Iranian television, showed all ten sailors kneeling on the decks of their ships with their hands behind their heads.
The U.S. sailors, who were detained by Iran Tuesday and later released Wednesday morning, spoke to the State Department before one of the naval officers was video taped making an apology to the Iranian regime, a Republican congressman says.
“It was a mistake. That was our fault. And we apologize for our mistake,” the sailor said, in a video clip posted by Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.
When asked if they had a “special problem” the sailor replied, “We had no problem, sir.”
Additionally, the one female sailor detained was made to wear a makeshift traditional head wrap.
Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, a member of the House Select permanent Intelligence Committee, told The Daily Caller Thursday during the GOP retreat, “We talked about that [during the retreat] and we’ll have to wait and hear from him, but we do know that the State Dept. did talk to those guys before he made that comment, so it was very kind of, honestly, suspicious why he would just come out and make that kind of a statement.”
Rooney added, “It almost seems like it was cooked in the books for part of the release to make it look better that he would apologize for drifting into the water and then they would be released.”
According to the Daily Mail, reports from Iran say the Pentagon was “forced” to make a groveling apology in order to have the sailors released.
Fellow Intel Committee member and House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Mike Conaway said, “We are actively trying to get the facts and we don’t have all the facts.”
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, insisting only the DoD could provide such information.
Christopher Sherwood, Department of Defense spokesman, told TheDC in a statement, “The sailors are going through the reintegration process and additional details will be provided when available.”
House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul told TheDC Republicans have not received confirmation that State spoke to the sailors prior to the apology but the question was submitted to the administration.
“It’s a point of discussion and I just don’t have confirmation,” McCaul said.
Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated the release of all ten sailors through at least five phone calls with Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, The New York Times reported.
A top aide to Kerry told The Times that the Secretary told Zarif, who was reportedly concerned about the nuclear deal falling apart, “if we are able to do this in the right way, we can make this into what will be a good story for both of us.”
However, Zarif may not have had much influence over the sailors’ release, The Times reports, noting the power struggle between Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards — who captured and arrested the U.S. sailors initially — and Hassan Rouhani makes the actual decision maker for the sailors’ release a mystery.
Republicans took aim at the administration for its handling of the release. Rooney told TheDC the topic was a big issue among the conference at the retreat among members who wore the uniform.
“The naval officer’s apology goes sort of counter to everything we were taught. One of the first things you learn when you get into the military is you have to memorize the code of conduct and a lot of what is spelled out there is you never issue any kind of apology or words of comfort to the enemy,” Rooney said, adding that he does not know if the administration considers Iran to be an enemy.
Vice President Joe Biden claimed the U.S. did not apologize and State Department spokesmen Mark Toner told reporters during a press conference Wednesday that the sailor’s apology was not an official U.S. apology.
“There was no official U.S. apology given to the Iranians,” Toner said. “I think that’s been a little bit of a canard, or whatever, out there in the press this morning that there was the impression given that there was some kind of apology. Categorically, there was not.”However, Republicans are not buying the administration’s explanation on the events.
“I just think what Iran did with these sailors in addition to its ballistic testing is a slap in the face to the United States and shows they can’t be trusted as a negotiating partner,” McCaul told TheDC.
“If Secretary Kerry came down on high to apologize — I don’t think we should be apologetic to Iran. It’s once again negotiating out of weakness—appeasement towards Iran. It’s consistent with this administration’s policy with Iran,” he said.