Sen. Cotton critical of Obama’s handling of Iranian detention of U.S. sailors

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An image from Iranian television showing the capture of U.S. Navy personnel. The crew was returned within 24 hours of their detention.

The detention of 10 U.S. sailors by Iranian forces Tuesday drew a strong response from U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on Wednesday (Jan. 13). However, Iran released the sailors within 24 hours of their detention.

Iran seized two United States Navy patrol boats and 10 crew members after Iranian officials described the boats as trespassing near an Iranian naval base. Pentagon and State Department officials said one of the boats had had mechanical trouble. Early Wednesday, the 10 crew members were released as video of them being held was shown on Iranian television.

Still, Sen. Cotton asked several questions about the Obama administration’s reaction to the situation. Cotton, who was the most vocal member of Congress on the matter, said the issue created several issues that should be answered.

“The administration’s statements today regarding Iran’s actions at sea are disappointing, but not surprising. Before we thank the Iranian naval forces and attempt to defend and normalize their behavior, as Vice President Biden and Secretaries Kerry and Carter appear inclined to do, we should demand answers to certain questions about their behavior. Among them: Where exactly were the sailors intercepted? Why were they detained instead of being merely escorted into international waters? What was the nature of the technical malfunctions on both vessels? What is the condition of our boats? Was sensitive equipment compromised? Why were the sailors not permitted to contact U.S. higher headquarters in the region for the 16 hours they were detained,” said Cotton, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Continuing, Cotton noted: “Our sailors never should have been detained in the first place, and blithely accepting such action will only embolden the IRGC and the ayatollahs who wish to do harm to Americans and our allies in the Arabian Gulf.”
Administration officials took to the airwaves Wednesday to make their case on the issue.

Biden downplayed the issue.

“There’s nothing to apologize for. When you have a problem with the boat you apologize the boat had a problem? No, and there was no looking for any apology. This was just standard nautical practice,” Vice President Joe Biden said on CBS This Morning Wednesday.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter thanked administration officials for their work.

“I am pleased that ten U.S. Navy sailors have departed Iran and are now back in U.S. hands. I want to personally thank Secretary of State John Kerry for his diplomatic engagement with Iran to secure our sailors’ swift return. Around the world, the U.S. Navy routinely provides assistance to foreign sailors in distress, and we appreciate the timely way in which this situation was resolved,” Carter said in a statement.

Former Navy Commander Chris Harmer told CNN that he blamed the U.S. Navy for the incident, saying that such boats were out of their typical area of operation.

“Either the naval leadership put these sailors in an impossible situation or the sailors are professionally incompetent,” Harmer said in the CNN interview.

During a press conference Wednesday near Omaha, Neb., White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked if the President was “satisfied with how Iran handled it.”

“Well, I guess – let me answer the other part of your question, which is that there is more work being done to understand exactly how the situation came about. And that work is underway. So there’s not a whole lot more that I can share with you in terms of the details of this situation. But we’re obviously gathering more information – the Department of Defense is gathering more information, so we can get a better picture of what exactly led to these individuals ending up – these sailors ending up in Iranian custody. And we’re certainly going to want to understand more about how they were treated and what transpired while they were in the hands of the Iranians. So there’s not that much that I can say about that now, principally because we’re still understanding exactly what transpired,” Earnest told reporters.

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