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Weakness Or Effective Diplomacy? Candidates, Officials React To Iranian Deals

In the wake of this weekend's prisoner exchange with Iran, a Twitter hashtag supporting Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian underwent a jubilant change: #FreeJason became #JasonIsFree.

The family of Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran in 2007 and whose whereabouts remain unknown, started a frustrated hashtag of their own: #WhatAboutBob.

Meanwhile, "Implementation Day" arrived Saturday — that is, the day Iran fulfilled the requirements of the international nuclear pact and sanctions against the country were lifted.

Like the prisoner exchange, the end of sanctions left some elated and others irate.

Here are a few reactions to the weekend's news out of Iran:

  • "This is a good day, because once again we're seeing what's possible with strong American diplomacy," President Barack Obama said in a speech Sunday. The decades that the U.S. and Iran spent not engaging with each other didn't advance U.S. interests, he said, while diplomacy — not war — led to the "historic success" evidenced this weekend. He pointed to three victories: the implementation of the nuclear deal, the release of American prisoners and the resolution of a longstanding financial dispute between the U.S. and Iran. He also noted that differences between the U.S. and Iran remain, and pointed to new sanctions against Iran as evidence that the U.S. will remain steadfast in opposing Iranian violations of international agreements.
  • The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Implementation Day with a statement saying Iran has signed the deal, but not given up its aspirations for nuclear weapons. The statement called for "an appropriate response to each violation" of the deal Iran might make in the future, and said Israel will take any action necessary to defend itself.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry celebrated the prisoner exchange, noting that the negotiations for the prisoner exchange were not directly related to the nuclear negotiations, but that "the relationships forged and the diplomatic channels unlocked over the course of the nuclear talks" helped accelerate the pace of the prisoner talks. He then spoke at length about the achievement of Implementation Day, saying, "Today marks the first day of a safer world ... I think we have also proven once again why diplomacy has to always be our first choice and war our last resort."
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Twitter, "I thank God for this blessing & bow to the greatness of the patient nation of Iran. Congrats on this glorious victory!" He also tweeted, "We extended a hand of friendship & despite the challenges, conspiracies & doubts managed to open a new chapter in our relations w/ the world."
  • GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump criticized the terms of the prisoner deal, which involved Iran releasing four prisoners, the U.S. pardoning seven Iranians charged with sanctions violations and the U.S. dropping extradition requests for 14 more Iranians. "They're getting seven people, so essentially they get $150bn plus seven, and we get four," Trump said Saturday, according to The Guardian. "I'm happy they're coming back, but I will tell you it's a disgrace they've been there so long."
  • GOP candidate Ted Cruz, who had joined in advocating for pastor Saeed Abedini's release from Iranian jail, thanked God for his release while expressing skepticism about the negotiations that led to that release.
  • Similarly, fellow Republican candidate Mike Huckabee tweeted "Praise God!" for the release of Abedini before tweeting, "It's embarrassing John Kerry & Obama negotiate with Iran as innocent Americans still remain locked-up in prison."
  • Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders acknowledged the prisoner release with a short statement, saying, "This good news shows that diplomacy can work even in this volatile region of the world."
  • GOP candidate Jeb Bush criticized the American half of the prisoner exchange, the pardoning of seven Iranians who had been charged with or convicted of sanctions violations. "Every time we show weakness it is a victory for Iran," he said at a town hall, according to Reuters.
  • Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton praised both the prisoner release and the implementation of the nuclear pact. "But we shouldn't thank Iran for the prisoners or for following through on its obligations," she said in a statement. "These prisoners were held unjustly by a regime that continues to threaten the peace and security of the Middle East. Another American, Bob Levinson, still isn't home with his family." Clinton also called for fresh sanctions against Iran over the country's ballistic missile program — which, a day later, the Treasury Department implemented.
  • Speaker of the House Paul Ryan criticized the lifting of sanctions on Iran in a statement that did not mention the prisoner exchange. "Today, the Obama administration will begin lifting economic sanctions on the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. As the president himself has acknowledged, Iran is likely to use this cash infusion—more than $100 billion in total—to finance terrorists," he said. On Twitter, Ryan said he was "very glad" the American prisoners are coming home.
  • GOP candidate Marco Rubio, who has been highly critical of the Iran deal, also denounced the prisoner exchange. "Of course we're happy for [the released prisoners] and their families, but they should have never been there," Rubio said, according to Time. " We shouldn't be involved in swaps," he continued. "The fact of the matter is that this tells us everything we need to know about the Iranian regime—that they take people hostage in order to gain concessions. And the fact that they can get away with it with this administration I think has created an incentive for more governments to do this around the world."
  • U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Implementation Day "a significant milestone," one demonstrating "that international proliferation concerns are best addressed through dialogue and patient diplomacy."
  • British foreign secretary Philip Hammond celebrated the achievement of Implementation Day, saying: "Years of patient and persistent diplomacy, and difficult technical work, have borne fruit as we now implement the deal. There were many sceptics who said Iran would never deliver on its side of the bargain, but the independent International Atomic Energy Agency has said they have."
  • Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who is also a nuclear physicist, said that "based on hard science" the nuclear deal improves global security. "Iran's breakout time has increased from just two to three months before the agreement to at least one year," he said in a statement. "Since Adoption Day in October, Iran has shipped 25,000 pounds of enriched uranium out of the country and has removed and placed in monitored storage two-thirds of its centrifuges and associated infrastructure. The core of Iran's Arak Heavy Water Research Reactor was removed and filled with concrete, eliminating Iran's potential source of weapons-grade plutonium."
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    Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.