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Presidential candidates waste no time weighing in on Iran prisoner releases

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/17/2016 Jayne O'Donnell

Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton speaks at the 'First in the South' Dinner on January 16, 2016 in Charleston, South Carolina. © Andrew Burton/Getty Images Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton speaks at the 'First in the South' Dinner on January 16, 2016 in Charleston, South Carolina. Politicians, especially those among the many running for president, leaped at the chance to weigh in on the prisoner swap with Iran that was negotiated ahead of finalization of the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal. 

Presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., said in a statement that the release "shows that diplomacy can work even in this volatile region of the world."

Speaking to reporters after an event in Iowa, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he was happy for the families even though he thinks the administration made a mistake. 

“We shouldn’t be involved in swaps,” Time reported the presidential contender saying. “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.“

That Iran can "get away with it with this administration I think has created an incentive for more governments to do this around the world," he said. 

GOP front-runner Donald Trump criticized the Iranian nuclear deal, which he claimed will send $150 billion to Iran, CNN reported from a New Hampshire campaign event. 

"Now I have to see what the deal is for the four people, because someone said they were getting seven back. So essentially, they get 150 billion plus seven, and we get four. Doesn't sound too good," he said. "I am happy they are coming back, but it is a disgrace they have been there this long, a total disgrace."

Texas Senator and Trump rival Ted Cruz said he, too, was worried about the details of the exchange, CNN reported. 

"We don't know the details of the deal that is bringing them home, and it may well be there are some very problematic aspects to this deal," Cruz told reporters in Fort Mill, S.C. 

Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson also weighed in with a statement. 

“I am very pleased that four American citizens, who were illegally imprisoned by Iran in flagrant violation of longstanding international human rights norms, have finally been released,” Carson said, according to the Washington Post.

Carson said he was “overjoyed” for the prisoners and their families, but complained that the nuclear deal continued to present a danger to American national security interests.

“(T)he fact remains that President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran is fatally flawed and gravely jeopardizes the national security interests of the American people, our ally Israel and other peaceful nations in the Middle East and around the world,” Carson said.

Former Secretary of State and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton struck a more upbeat tone about the release and the nuclear treaty's implementation, which she noted she helped pave the way for. But, in a statement, she said "we shouldn’t thank Iran for the prisoners or for following through on its obligations."

"These prisoners were held unjustly by a regime that continues to threaten the peace and security of the Middle East," said Clinton. “So we can’t take our eye off the ball.”

Lesser knowns spoke out too. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the prisoner swap will help Iran develop missiles and nuclear weapons in the future.

"Iran is subject to limitations on purchase of nuclear and missile technology and needs expertise to evade these controls,” Sherman said in a statement. "Iran benefits from this deal by showing all those in its evasion network that if they get caught, they will be rescued.”

The seven people being released from American custody will provide Iran with significant expertise in how to evade missile and nuclear control sanctions and how not to get caught next time, Sherman added.

U.S. Senator Bob Casey D-PA, a member of the National Security Working Group, said the release was a positive development and that the Obama Administration and in particular Secretary Kerry were to be commended for their tireless work to make it happen.

Still, he said, Iran is a “serial violator of human rights” and needs to be held accountable for its actions, which should include sanctions for its recent testing of ICBMs in what he termed "clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions."

“The Iranian regime doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for releasing Americans who should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” Casey said in a statement.

Contributing: Oren Dorell

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