Right-Wing Media Use Brief Detention Of US Sailors To Erroneously Criticize Iran Nuclear Deal

Right-wing media leapt to criticize the Iran nuclear deal following the brief detention of American sailors by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf. However, foreign policy experts in the media are crediting the deal and the diplomatic contacts created by it for the quick release of the sailors.

U.S. Sailors Detained By Iran Released In Less Than 24 Hours

Iran Releases Ten U.S. Navy Sailors After Detaining Them Near Iranian Waters. On January 13, Iran announced it had released 10 U.S. Navy crew members and two patrol boats after detaining them the day before for supposedly “trespassing” in Iranian waters, according to The New York Times. The Times also reported that, unlike before in a similar incident in 2007 involving British sailors, this dispute was resolved quickly:

Iran's release of 10 United States Navy sailors on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after they were detained on the Persian Gulf, is being hailed in both countries as a sign that their relations have evolved since the signing of the nuclear accord last summer.


The crew members of two patrol boats were detained on Tuesday after what Iranian state news media described as “trespassing” in Iranian waters near a major naval base. Similar episodes in the past, like the seizure of British marines in 2007, have developed into prolonged standoffs that further alienated Tehran and the West.

This time was different. The Pentagon and the State Department said that one of the boats had experienced mechanical problems en route to Bahrain from Kuwait on a routine mission on Tuesday, and that the Iranians appeared to have accepted the explanation.


The sailors' release was announced shortly before 10 a.m. on an Iranian state-run news channel, IRINN. “The detained U.S. sailors, after it was realized that their entry into Iran's territorial waters was unintentional, and after the sailors apologized, were released into international waters in the Persian Gulf,” the channel reported, attributing the statement to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The United States Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain confirmed the release, saying in a statement that there were “no indications that the sailors were harmed during their brief detention” and that the Navy would “investigate the circumstances that led to the sailors' presence in Iran.” [The New York Times1/13/16]

Following News Of The Sailors' Detention, Right-Wing Media Used The Incident To Criticize The Iran Nuclear Deal

Rupert Murdoch Connects Iran Deal To Detention. Rupert Murdoch, the co-chairman of Fox News' parent company, wrote on Twitter that Obama's January 12 State of the Union address “proclaims great virtue of Iran nuclear deal,” but "[t]omorrow's headlines: 'Iran grabs ten US sailors'":

[Twitter.com, 1/12/16]

Fox's Krauthammer: Incident Shows Iran Deal “Unrestrained” Iran And “Restrain[ed] The United States.” During a special post-State of the Union January 12 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly asked Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer about President Obama not mentioning the detention in his address. Krauthammer pointed to the incident to claim Iran “treated Obama with contempt” and was “unrestrained” since the nuclear deal had been negotiated and that the deal had “self-deter[ed] Obama” against Iran:

MEGYN KELLY (HOST): What did you make of the fact that he did even not mention the 10 American soldiers who are being held by Iran tonight, while he did decide to touch on Iran, and mention what he feels is our success in negotiating this Iran nuke deal?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Well that I was think the most, sort of the element in that speech that showed you how disconnected he was. As he was speaking, the United States was having at the best, being thumbed at by the Iranians, at worst being treated with contempt. The same way they treated Obama with contempt since he signed the Iran deal with the illegal ballistic missile tests, to which we have responded with nothing. The seizing of a couple of Iranian Americans, the sentencing of The Washington Post journalist. Their -- the live fire of rockets by the Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf within 1500 yards of American warships. They are completely unmolested, unrestrained. Clearly what the Iran deal has done is to restrain the United States and to self-deter Obama. And that is something he simply won't recognize.

KELLY: We're about to give these people $150 billion. [Fox News, The Kelly File1/12/16]

Fox's Hayes: Obama Administration's Iran Deal Gave Iran  “A Green Light” To Do “Whatever [They] Want.” During Fox News' special coverage of the State of the Union address anchored by Special Report host Bret Baier, Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes claimed that Obama's pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran gave Iran “a green light” to “do whatever you want” and that “we're seeing them exercise that” with the sailors' detention:

BRET BAIER (HOST): Let's not forget there are other Americans being held in Iran, including The Washington Post reporter who's been there for a long time.

STEPHEN HAYES: Right, and I think that speaks to the nature of the regime and it's something that the administration set aside initially when it sought to initiate these discussions with Iran over the nuclear program. They said in effect, “you do what you want in the region. You do what you want supporting terrorism. We're not going to stop that. We're not concerned with that. We want a narrow track on nuclear weapons.” I think that sent a signal to the Iranians. “Do whatever you want. You've got a green light. Do whatever you want.” And I think we're seeing them exercise that here. [Fox News, State of the Union 20161/12/16]

Joe Scarborough: Iran Has “Exactly 300 Days Left To Push A US President Around.” MSNBC host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, writing about the sailors' detention on Twitter, wrote, “Hey Iran, you have exactly 300 days left to push a US president around. Enjoy it while you can. After that, there will be hell to pay”:

[Twitter.com, 1/12/16]

HotAir's Allahpundit: Iran Deal Requires Obama “To Look The Other Way At Iran's Transgressions” To Preserve Deal. Writing about the sailors' detention, HotAir's Allahpundit criticized Obama and the nuclear agreement with Iran, claiming the “White House is totally invested in [the nuclear deal's] success -- even if that requires them to look the other way at Iran's transgressions in the name of preserving the deal”:

John Kerry has already been on the phone with Iran's foreign minister and the crew will supposedly be returned “promptly.” Let's hope so for O's sake, or else an already awkward defense of his disastrous foreign policy this evening will grow an order of magnitude more awkward. The proof's really in the pudding here: If the sailors are in fact returned soon, fine, it was an unfortunate accident. If there's any delay, it'll become more difficult to believe that this happened the way it's being claimed. One of the worst aspects of the nuclear deal, which critics saw coming before the agreement was struck, is that the White House is totally invested in its success -- even if that requires them to look the other way at Iran's transgressions in the name of preserving the deal. We've already seen one ominous example of that this year, with the White House having declared that it would impose new sanctions on Iran for proceeding with its ballistic missile program, only to turn around and announce that the sanctions would be delayed indefinitely after Iran objected. Knowing that Team O will bend over backwards to avoid perceptions that Iran is exploiting its nuclear detente with the U.S. to act more aggressively abroad, why would they get the benefit of the doubt here that it was the U.S. Navy that screwed up? [HotAir, 1/12/16]

However, Foreign Policy Journalists Noted How The Iran Deal Helped Resolve The Incident Speedily

CNN Military Analyst: Sailors May Have Been Quickly Released “Because Of The Ongoing Iran Deal” And “New Engagements” With Iran. During the January 13 edition of CNN's New Day, CNN military analyst and retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said, “I certainly think that [the sailors] were released quickly because of the ongoing Iran deal,” pointing to “potentially ... a new age coming about with Iran,” and crediting “new engagements, the fact that we've been talking with the Iranians for the last year plus” for the incident being resolved:

ALISYN CAMEROTA (HOST): So we don't know exactly why our U.S. soldiers were in these Iranian waters but we do know about the timing. And this this is just days before the Iranian nuclear deal is set to go through. So is that why you think that they were released posthaste?

MARK HERTLING: Maybe. I don't want to put it completely on that. The thing I'd say, what you have is a carrier task group, a carrier task group there, the Harry Truman carrier group. You also have the Charles de Gaulle, the French carrier there. So there's are a lot of boats in that water and they're doing an exercise right now as part of naval command, as part of Central Command. Why they were released quickly? I'm not sure. I think there potentially is a new age coming about with Iran. This is going to improve military-military relationships. In the past as you know, the British were held for almost two weeks a few years ago in the same kind of circumstances. So yes, I certainly think that they were released quickly because of the ongoing Iran deal. They probably would have been kept a few more days. But I also think the actions of Secretary Carter and Secretary Kerry, who were together when they got the news that this happened, of calling the Iranian counterparts, helped significantly.


HERTLING: When you're in a situation in the Navy, when you're a distressed mariner, and another force picks you up, it is international law to be treated well and to be returned and released after they find out the reasons for that distress. The Iranians did that, much to their credit. It could be part of the Iranian deal. It could be because of new engagements, the fact that we've been talking with the Iranians for the last year plus. All of those things could have certainly contributed. [CNN, New Day1/13/16]

CNN's Amanpour: Iran Deal Has Created “New Atmosphere” For Diplomacy That Allowed For Incident To Be Resolved. During the January 13 edition of New Day, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour said the Iran deal and the negotiations leading to the deal had created “direct contact between the highest levels in the United States and the highest levels in Iran” and a “new atmosphere,” which created a “fallout” to resolve the incident of the sailors' detention quickly:

ALISYN CAMEROTA (HOST): As you heard Barbara say, a big sigh of relief. Everyone is happy that these U.S. sailors are headed back home. Did this have the potential to end badly?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Any kind of weird military misunderstanding can have that potential. But I think the big story is how quickly the sailors were released, several hours after they apparently -- by all sides' accounts -- strayed into Iranian waters, were taken in, and then because of direct diplomacy between Secretary of State John Kerry, between his counterpart the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, things were calmed down, things were explained, and these sailors released. It is incredible how different this is to the story of 2007 and 2004, when British sailors were captured in Iranian waters for one reason or another. They were taken in, they were paraded, they were blindfolded, they were held in isolation. They were severely interrogated. They were forced into forced confessions. And so this is a completely different story, which shows how these situations are changing now under the new Iran nuclear deal with the United States and world powers. So I think that is the story of this event.

CAMEROTA: I want you to build on that, Christiane. Is this a direct result of the negotiations that happened during the Iran nuclear deal? Can we give credit for this new day of diplomacy to the work they did on that?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, I remember reporting on the 2007 and 2004 incidents. 2007 was when the reprehensible and antagonistic President Ahmadinejad was in power in Iran. These people, the British sailors, were held for 13 days, as I described, in bad and harsh circumstances. Since President Obama and Secretary Kerry and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and all of those people have gathered together to start a new kind of relationship, yes, about one issue, a very important issue, and that is the nuclear issue, it has had a calming effect on many other issues as well. And there is direct contact between the highest levels in the United States and the highest levels in Iran. That is a change. And that is what diplomacy is all about. So again, I think that this is the story of this incident, that whatever reason or why ever, the investigation will tell, according to Barbara and others, why they strayed into those waters, but even the Iranian military Revolutionary Guard, even the highest officials on IranianPress television, didn't go blustering and bombastic, and said let's investigate, let's see what happened. And sure enough, they were released.

Will it have an impact? Was it because it because of the nuclear deal? It's because of the new atmosphere, I believe, and that nuclear deal is about to be implemented. The U.N. nuclear agency has given Iran a clean bill of health. And this week Iran removed the heart of its Arak heavy water reactor, which as you know might have been used for a second pathway to a nuclear device. So things are moving in that direction.


AMANPOUR: I don't think the incident is related to the timing of the lifting of sanctions and the implementation of this deal. But I think the result of it is because of all of that, the way it was dealt with quickly, efficiently, professionally, politically, is a fallout from these negotiations. [CNN, New Day1/13/16]

NBC's Ali Arousi: “One Of The Reasons” Incident Was Resolved Quickly “Is Because Of The Nuclear Deal.” During the January 13 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, NBC News Tehran Bureau Chief Ali Arouzi said the one of the reasons the incident “ended diplomatically and peacefully” is “because of the nuclear deal,” as it allowed Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran's Foreign Minister to talk to each other, which “would have been unheard of” before the Iran deal negotiations:

ALI AROUZI: [T]hankfully it's all ended diplomatically and peacefully, and I think one of the reasons that has happened is because of the nuclear deal. Iran and America have been talking to each other extensively during the course of this deal, and because of that Secretary Kerry could talk to Foreign Minister Zarif about this issue and try and sort things out diplomatically. This would have been unheard of before the negotiations between the two countries. So this is one good thing that's come out of it. [MSNBC, Morning Joe1/13/16]

Washington Post's Daniel Drezner: “It's Almost As If U.S. Diplomacy Toward Iran Has Yielded Some Benefits Or Something” With Release Of Sailors. Washington Post contributor and professor of international politics Daniel Drezner pointed out the incident was resolved “much more quickly and with a minimum of fuss” than when Iran held British sailors in 2007, adding, “It's almost as if U.S. diplomacy toward Iran has yielded some benefits or something.” [The Washington Post, PostEverything, 1/13/16]