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White House pushes to free U.S. prisoners in Iran after Otto Warmbier's death

A senior administration official confirmed to CBS News that on June 13,  senior Trump administration officials met with Babak Namazi whose father and brother are both imprisoned in Iran. 

In the wake of Otto Warmbier's return to the U.S. from North Korea detention and subsequent death, the White House is ramping up efforts to bring home two of the Namazi family members, Siamak and 81-year-old Baquer, in part due to concerns about their declining health. The Washington Post first reported the White House meeting with Namazi.

Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American, was charged with espionage in 2015. His father was taken shortly afterward. They were not included in the Obama Administration's negotiations to free five American prisoners at the time of the nuclear deal.

Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell is spearheading the prisoner release effort. She played a key role in bringing home NGA worker Aya Hijazi from Egypt, though more than 10 Americans remain behind bars there. Jared Genser, a lawyer for Namazi said in a written statement, that while Powell explained there were things being done she could not share, "we discussed a number of concrete measures being considered" making clear that the release of the Namazis is a "top priority" for the administration.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also lent her support to the family, tweeting a photo of a June 15th meeting with Namazi, saying "detaining political prisoners is one of the worst human rights abuses a country can do."

Genser noted, however, that the family still has a "very long way to go and undoubtedly many obstacles lie ahead." 

The Trump administration's Iran policy review is ongoing, including a pending decision on whether to continue to comply with the Obama-era international agreement to freeze Iran's nuclear program for the next decade. 

It is unclear whether or not the administration has a direct or indirect line to Iranian leadership right now. When Secretary Tillerson was pressed last month on whether he'd consider speaking with Iran's foreign minister, he left open the possibility, saying that he imagined it would happen in the future and that he would't refuse to answer the phone.

As for those left behind in North Korea, Tillerson continues to try to bring home the three Americans: Kim Dong Chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak-Song.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Margaret Brennan is moderator of CBS News' "Face The Nation" and CBS News' senior foreign affairs correspondent based in Washington, D.C.