LONDON: A man held as a hostage for over a year by Iranian extremists in the turmoil following Iran’s Islamic Revolution has pledged to initiate a hunger strike to demand the release of all existing hostages in Iran.
Barry Rosen was one of 52 Americans held as hostages for 444 days by Iranian extremists who stormed the US Embassy in Tehran after a coalition of Islamists and other protestors deposed the Shah of Iran in 1979.
He announced Monday on Twitter that he will travel to Vienna and initiate a hunger strike aimed at pressuring the US into prioritizing the release of foreign hostages during ongoing talks with Tehran.
The Vienna talks are currently aimed primarily at curbing Iran’s nuclear arms program, but many, such as Rosen, have urged the US to broaden the scope of talks to curtailing Iran’s other belligerent behavior, such as its taking of foreign hostages.
In a video statement, Rosen said: “This week marks the 41st anniversary of my release from captivity. But the hostage crisis hasn’t ended for many others, Americans and Westerners, who are currently being held as bargaining chips in Iran.
“There are at least two dozen of them. It is clear to me that the release of hostages can only take place if the United States, and countries like the United States, put pressure on Iran,” said Rosen, who worked in the US press attaché during the 1979 hostage crisis.
He pledged to stage a hunger strike in Vienna.
“My message is simple: no deal with Iran unless the hostages are free,” said Rosen, adding that he will deliver the message to both the American and Iranian delegations in Vienna.
He said his hunger strike will take place despite concerns over his health due to his age because it is “the right thing for the hostages and their family.”
Iran has long been accused of detaining foreigners, particularly those with dual Iranian nationality, in order to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations later.
High-profile individuals currently detained include Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian national who has been held in Iran for nearly six years.
Her family believes she is being held as a hostage to use as a negotiation tool in a separate issue between London and Tehran that has been simmering for decades.
Rights group Amnesty International said that Nazanin continues to be used as a “bargaining chip” at the hands of an authority who has “played cruel political games with her life.”
In a separate statement, Amnesty also decried Tehran’s entire hostage-taking strategy.
“In recent years, the Iranian authorities have arrested and detained dozens of dual nationals, including prisoners of conscience such as journalists, academics and human rights defenders,” said the group.
But the approach has, in the past, paid off for Iran. During the Obama administration, the US transferred $1.7 billion in cash to Iran in exchange for the release of several Iranian-American citizens.
Many believe that Tehran is again hoping to use hostages as bargaining chips, this time to pressure the US and its Western partners into a more favorable deal in Vienna.