US Senate calls on Iran to release detained Americans

WASHINGTON - The US Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution Monday calling for Iran to release three American citizens being held in the country.

The non-binding measure, which passed 90 votes to zero, urges the White House to use all tools available to seek and obtain the return of the detained Americans, who include pastor Saeed Abedini, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and former US Marine Amir Hekmati.

A fourth American, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, remains missing after mysteriously vanishing in Iran some eight years ago.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped the resolution would send a strong message to leaders in Tehran.

He spoke particularly about Abedini, who has been jailed for more than two years for the "supposed crime of building and operating an orphanage," adding that he has been beaten and held in solitary confinement.

"That's apparently how the Iranian regime deals with those who dare to show love and compassion to others," McConnell said.

Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he called on Iran's government "to do the right thing... and immediately release these citizens and send them home to their families and communities as soon as possible."

Senator Bill Nelson said it was "inexcusable" that Iran claims to know nothing about the whereabouts of Levinson, 67, who mysteriously disappeared on March 9, 2007 on Iran's Gulf island of Kish while reportedly investigating cigarette counterfeiting in the region.

The Senate resolution comes as Washington and other international powers seek to finalize a landmark accord with Iran that would prevent the Islamic republic from developing nuclear weapons, in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions.

Last week, Congress passed a bill requiring President Barack Obama to give US lawmakers the right to review any final nuclear accord, a moved Tehran slammed as heaping pressure on its negotiators during the final stages of the talks.

Some lawmakers had wanted to include the Iran hostages resolution in the congressional review bill, but Senate leaders prevented lawmakers from adding controversial amendments.

Obama had pressed Tehran in March for the return of the four Americans.