An undated family photo of Jason Rezaian, detained Washington Post Iran bureau chief. (

ON THURSDAY, The Post’s Jason Rezaian marks another dismal milestone: his 500th day of detention in Iran. He is held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where political prisoners are kept; his principal companion is a cellmate who speaks neither English nor Persian, making communication difficult. Mr. Rezaian is no longer allowed contact with his lawyer nor fresh supplies of reading material. His exercise time was cut back after Iran finished negotiating its nuclear deal with a U.S.-led coalition over the summer. Though his trial on espionage charges ended Aug. 10, neither he nor his lawyer has been formally informed of the verdict or sentence against him.

This outrage will have continued for 56 days longer than the hostage crisis of 1979-81, when 52 Americans were held captive at the U.S. Embassy. Though Iran has previously arrested journalists with foreign citizenship, Mr. Rezaian has been held far longer than any of them. His wife, Yeganeh Salehi, an Iranian citizen, also remains in limbo: Arrested with Mr. Rezaian on July 22, 2014, at their home, she was released after two months but has not been allowed to return to her work as a journalist and remains under threat of prosecution. The couple are allowed to meet every other Saturday for an hour, and Mr. Rezaian is also allowed a weekly meeting with Ms. Salehi and his mother. Otherwise, he is subjected to a cruel isolation.

It has been widely speculated that Mr. Rezaian is a pawn in an internal Iranian power struggle. Hard-liners are said to be using him, and at least three other Americans they are holding, to block any further improvement in relations between the United States and the government of Hassan Rouhani. While that may be true, Mr. Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, haven’t been encouraging about Mr. Rezaian’s case. Mr. Zarif has gone from describing him as a “friend” and “good reporter” to suggesting he might be guilty of wrongdoing, while Mr. Rouhani floated the idea that he should be traded for 19 Iranians being held in the United States.

What seems clear is that the Obama administration has failed to create incentives for the regime to release Mr. Rezaian and other Americans. It continues to implement the nuclear deal; in a change of policy, it invited Iran to participate in political talks on Syria. No one has been sanctioned — or even threatened with sanctions — in response to the Rezaian case.

Iran appears content to allow Mr. Rezaian and the other Americans to rot in prison indefinitely, even as the regime collects more than $100 billion in sanctions relief and is granted the role it has long sought as a regional power. That should not be an acceptable outcome.