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Obama Calls on Iran to Free 4 Americans

President Barack Obama gestures during a speech at the 116th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, July 21, 2015, in Pittsburgh.
President Barack Obama gestures during a speech at the 116th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, July 21, 2015, in Pittsburgh.

U.S. President Barack Obama demanded Tuesday that Iran release three Americans it is holding and help find a fourth believed to be in the country.

"We are not going to relent until we bring home our Americans who are unjustly detained in Iran," Obama told a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Pittsburgh.

"Journalist Jason Rezaian should be released. Pastor Saeed Abedini should be released. Amir Hekmati, a former sergeant in the U.S. Marines Corps, should be released. Iran needs to help us find Robert Levinson. These Americans need to be back home with their families."

Some family members, friends and associates of the four have criticized Obama for not winning the release of the captives as part of last week's international deal with Tehran to at least temporarily block its construction of a nuclear weapon in exchange for lifting crippling economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations and Western nations.

Obama defended the agreement negotiated by Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the U.S. with Iran, calling it "a smarter, more responsible way to protect our national security."

The United Nations Security Council unanimously endorsed the deal Monday, but Republican critics of Obama in the U.S. Congress have promised a thorough review of it over the next 60 days before voting whether to support or reject it.

President Obama says he will veto a congressional rejection of the pact, which would force both the House and Senate to produce a two-thirds majority to override the measure.

"The same politicians and pundits that are so quick to reject the possibility of a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear program are the same folks who were so quick to go to war in Iraq and said it would only take a few months,'' Obama told the veterans' convention.

But Obama acknowledged the U.S. still expects difficult confrontations with Tehran.

"Even with this deal, we'll continue to have serious differences with the Iranian government, its support of terrorism, proxies that destabilize the Middle East," he said. "But we can't let them off the hook. Our sanctions for Iran's support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program and its human rights violations, those sanctions will remain in place. And we will stand with allies and partners, including Israel, to oppose Iran's dangerous behavior," he said.

Obama called Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday to thank him for Beijing's role in completing the Iranian pact. The White House said the two leaders agreed that cooperation between the U.S. and China is critical to the implementation of the accord.

Meanwhile, North Korea said it has no interest in negotiations similar to those conducted with Iran that would result in Pyongyang giving up its nuclear capability.