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Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz welcomed the release of five Americans detained in Iran, but said the prisoner swap deal that made it possible sets a “dangerous precedent.”
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Cruz claimed that Iran got the better end of the deal because the U.S. released seven terrorists who had helped Iran with their nuclear program and additionally agreed not to prosecute 14 others accused of the same.
“That's 21 terrorists helping Iran develop nuclear weapons that they intend to use to try to murder us," he said. "It reflects a pattern we've seen in the Obama administration over and over again of negotiating with terrorists and making deals and trades that endanger U.S. safety and security.”
He said the deal sets a “very dangerous precedent.”
As part of the landmark deal, the U.S. relieved sanctions on Iran in return for its progress in pulling back its nuclear program.
The Americans released were Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, whose name had not been previously made public. U.S. student Matthew Trevithick was released independently of the exchange on Saturday.
In turn, the U.S. will pardon or drop charges against seven Iranians — six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens — accused or convicted of violating U.S. sanctions.
On Sunday, President Barack Obama defended the deal and hailed the release of the five Americans and the implementation of a nuclear deal he hopes will stand among his lasting foreign policy achievements.
Obama pledged to counter vigorously Iran's "destabilizing behavior" across the Middle East even while the U.S. engages with the Islamic Republic. He also announced economic sanctions against 11 individuals and entities as a result of a ballistic missile launch in October.
"We're not going to waver in the defense of our security or that of our allies and partners," Obama said.
However, Rubio said the deal traded American “hostages” for Iranian “prisoners who did commit a crime.” He said it shows a “weakness” in Washington and that if he were elected president, Iran would not dare detain Americans or face dire consequences.
“[Obama has] put price on the head of every American abroad," Rubio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Our enemies now know that if you can capture an American, you can get something meaningful in exchange for it,” he added.
“When I become president of the United States, our adversaries around the world will know that America is no longer under the command of someone weak like Barack Obama, and it will be like Ronald Reagan, where as soon as he took office the hostages were released from Iran,” Rubio said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.