Politics & Government

Texan who was hostage in Iran criticizes nuclear pact

More than three decades away from Iran isn’t enough to change Rick Kupke’s mind: Making a deal — any kind of deal — with the Middle Eastern country is a big mistake.

That’s especially true for the U.S.-led nuclear deal with Iran, said Kupke, an Arlington resident held captive in Iran for more than a year.

“This is probably the worst agreement of this kind I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Kupke, one of 52 Americans taken hostage in Iran in 1979 and held for 444 days. “I don’t know why they think the Iranians are going to abide by any agreement. They never have.

“I think it’s going to trigger a nuclear arms race … because everyone in the area is going to want to stay even with the Iranians as they violate the agreement.”

Kupke, 68, said he watched the deal unfold on the TV news and in the newspaper and even discussed it with fellow former hostages.

They believe the deal “will really prove to be a failure as time goes on” and are disappointed that, despite all the negotiations, four Americans are still being held hostage in Iran.

President Barack Obama said the agreement is better than the alternative — likely war — and noted that officials are working “diligently” to free the hostages. Linking their freedom to the nuclear negotiations could give Iran an incentive to use American prisoners as leverage, he said.

Kupke, a retired foreign service officer, said: “Letting the four hostages just sit there — I think that’s a horrible thing to do. An American hostage is an American hostage and not a low priority.”

The overall agreement, which Obama says stops Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb, still must gain the approval of Congress.

A look back

In 1979, Kupke was busy encrypting classified messages inside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when militants overran it.

After working to destroy Teletype machines and other equipment, as well as shred sensitive documents, he became the last American to surrender.

The hostage-takers wanted the unpopular Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who fled to the U.S. that year, returned to Iran. And the hostages were the bargaining chip.

As the U.S. refused to negotiate, the 52 hostages — held for more than 14 months — were often blindfolded, bound and left on concrete floors or tied to furniture.

They couldn’t talk to one another for weeks at a time and were guarded by gunmen who sat inches from them.

In what Kupke calls one of America’s first confrontations with terrorism, they were beaten, terrorized, locked in solitary confinement and subjected to mock executions.

After 444 days, they were released on Jan. 20, 1981, the day President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. The shah died in Egypt in 1980.

‘Over our head’

Years later, Kupke wound up more than 7,600 miles from Iran when he moved to Arlington to live with his wife, Linda.

But he has remained plugged in to what happens in Iran, even setting up a Google alert to follow negotiations meant to reduce the chances that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon.

The talks led to an agreement that involves removing financial sanctions against Iran. Some fear that will give the country money to become a much greater threat.

Under the agreement, Iran would also reduce its nuclear infrastructure for a decade, limit research on other infrastructure and dilute its uranium stockpile.

“Judging by the number of people dancing in the streets in Iran, compared with the people in the United States who are puzzled, we don’t know what all the real details are,” Kupke said. “I think we are going to find out we were not only outnegotiated but outsmarted — and they have no intentions of following through on any of this.

“I think we are in a mess that’s over our head … and the nuclear race is on now.”

Next step

Now, Congress must approve the agreement. And the president promised to veto any bills that stop it.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, said the deal “jeopardizes the safety and security of Americans and our allies throughout the world.”

“The goal of these negotiations was for Iran to give up the ability to produce nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief,” said Granger, who heads the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee. “This agreement would simply delay Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon while also giving them access to conventional weapons.”

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, agreed that it’s bad news.

“This agreement means billions in sanction relief and an open door to continue their reckless foreign policy agenda,” he said. “Though I am relieved to see negotiations conclude, this product — which paves the path toward a nuclear Iran — is a risk to our national security and global interests.”

Some Texas Democrats disagreed.

“This agreement has the potential to position the United States and our allies toward a future of peace and security,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said in a statement. “Initial readings of the deal’s text indicate it contains stringent accountability measures that protect against the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Kupke fears that once the economic penalties are lifted and Iran starts receiving funding, the flaws in the deal will become much clearer.

“Once they get this infusion of tens and tens of billions of dollars, I think everybody knows they will … probably start a war with Israel so they can wipe them out.

“We are putting trust in a nation that sponsors terrorism,” he said. “I don’t understand why we are doing that.”

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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