During his hour-long speech, President Obama did not mention the unfolding situation in the Persian Gulf, where 10 U.S. sailors were being detailed by Iran after their two Navy boats drifted off course.
Top Republicans had urged Obama to address the situation, but his only mention of Iran came when he praised the nuclear deal concluded last year, of which he said, “the world has avoided another war.”
Afterward, Republican lawmakers criticized Obama for the omission.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said the lack of a mention stuck out, especially in the context of the president’s brief praise for the nuclear accord. “The ballistic missile tests, the firing of the rocket, now the detaining of 10 U.S. servicemen,” he said, “just shows the folly of that agreement.”
But Democrats said they gave Obama the benefit of the doubt, given the uncertainty surrounding the incident.
“I think that when the situation is so in flux, that anything you might mention might actually hurt their safety, so I think he was putting the safety of the sailors first, which is right,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“I think he probably made a decision that it was best not to mention them because we’re working behind the scenes to get them free,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who like Schumer opposed the nuclear deal. “Obviously, it was on everybody’s mind.”
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said Obama didn’t have to say much to signal his concern.
“Not even a mention?” he said. “I understand there might be a sensitive negotiation going on, but you might just acknowledge that it happened and we’re going to do everything in our power to get them returned home safely.”