Cruz, Rubio say Iran prisoner swap a 'dangerous precedent'

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Trump, Cruz Weigh in on Iran

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio praised Iran's release of five detained Americans on Sunday, but sharply criticized the deal the White House made to win their freedom saying it would lead to more Americans being taken "hostage."

U.S. President Barack Obama pardoned three Iranian-Americans charged for violating sanctions against Iran, a lawyer for one of the men said, while prosecutors moved to drop charges against four Iranians outside the United States.

Iran agreed to free five Americans including Rezaian and Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013 on charges of undermining Iran's national security.

SEE MORE: U.S. prisoners leave Iran for U.S. base as Obama hails win for diplomacy

Cruz, speaking to Fox News Sunday, said, "Praise God that the prisoners are coming home" but Iran got the better end of the prisoner swap.

"We released seven terrorists who had helped Iran with their nuclear program, and we agreed not to prosecute another 14 terrorists for doing the same thing. That's 21 terrorists helping Iran develop nuclear weapons that they intend to use to try to murder us," Cruz said.

He said the deal was a "very dangerous precedent."

Obama on Sunday defended the move describing the release as a "reciprocal, humanitarian gesture" that was a one-time event.

But Rubio, speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, said the deal traded American "hostages" for Iranian "prisoners who did commit a crime".

Obama has "put price on the head of every American abroad," Rubio said. "Our enemies now know that if you can capture an American, you can get something meaningful in exchange for it."

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Jason Rezaian, Iranian-American Washington Post reporter being held
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Cruz, Rubio say Iran prisoner swap a 'dangerous precedent'
FILE - In this photo April 11, 2013 file photo, Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American correspondent for the Washington Post, smiles as he attends a presidential campaign of President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran. Lawyer Leila Ahsan, who represents Rezaian, told the Post on Monday, April 20, 2015 that the correspondent also faces charges of "conducting propaganda against the establishment," ''collaborating with hostile governments" and "collecting information about internal and foreign policy and providing them to individuals with malicious intent."(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
Mary Rezaian, mother of detained Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, right, and Jason's wife Yeganeh leave a Revolutionary Court building in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. The final hearing of Rezaian detained in Iran more than a year ago and charged with espionage ended on Monday,with a verdict expected in the coming days in a trial that has been condemned by the newspaper and press freedom groups. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 22: Ali Rezaian, brother of imprisoned Washington Post's Iran bureau chief Jason Rezaian (in poster), gives reporters an update on his brother's case at the Naitonal Press Club in Washington, DC on July 22, 2015. It has been one year since American Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian was detained then imprisoned fon charges of espionage and propaganda against the Iranian establishment. He remains at Evin Prison in Tehran despite diplomatic pleas for his release. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02: Ali Rezaian, brother of Washington Post Tehran Bureau Chief Jason Rezaian, talks about his brother's imprisonment in Iran while testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill June 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee heard from relatives of five U.S. citizens currently held in prison in Iran. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02: (L-R) Ali Rezaian, brother of Washington Post Tehran Bureau Chief Jason Rezaian, Nagameh Abedini, wife of Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, Sarah Hekmati, sister of Marine Sergeant (ret) Amir Hekmati and Daniel Levinson, son of former CIA spy Robert Levinson; testifiy before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill June 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony from the relatives of the five U.S. citizens currently held in prison in Iran. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
EMBARGOED UNTIL FEBRUARY 12 AT 00:01 AM EST Ali Rezaian, brother of Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian who has been detained in Iran since July 2014, speaks alongside Delphine Halgand, USA Director of Reporters Without Borders, as they discuss the World Press Freedom Index 2015 during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, February 11, 2015. Published since 2002, the World Press Freedrom Index measures the level of freedom of information in 180 countries. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
EMBARGOED UNTIL FEBRUARY 12 AT 00:01 AM EST Ali Rezaian, brother of Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian who has been detained in Iran since July 2014, and Raza Rumi (R), a Pakistani journalist, discuss the World Press Freedom Index 2015 during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, February 11, 2015. Published since 2002, the World Press Freedrom Index measures the level of freedom of information in 180 countries. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 6: FILE, The Washington Post via Getty Images's Jason Rezaian at The Washington Post via Getty Images in Washington, DC on November 6, 2013. (Photo by Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. Rouhani declined to answer a question about a detained Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian. Rezaian and his wife Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the Abu Dhabi-based daily newspaper The National, who have been held for more than a month. Iranian officials have not specifically said why Rezaian and his wife were detained. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
An October 12, 2015 photo shows the front of the Washington Post building. A verdict has been issued in the trial in Iran of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, the country's judiciary said Sunday, without detailing the judgment but hinting at a conviction. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 22: Petition boxes for demanding the release of Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian are seen during a news conference at the National Press Club July 22, 2015 in Washington, DC. The news conference was to give an update on the case of Jason Rezaian, who is being held in Evin Prison in Iran since July 22, 2014. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 22: Ali Rezaian, brother of Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian, during a news conference at the National Press Club July 22, 2015 in Washington, DC. The news conference was to give an update on the case of Jason Rezaian, who is being held in Evin Prison in Iran since July 22, 2014. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02: Ali Rezaian, brother of Washington Post Tehran Bureau Chief Jason Rezaian, talks about his brother's imprisonment in Iran while testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill June 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee heard from relatives of five U.S. citizens currently held in prison in Iran. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Mary Rezaian (C), the mother of detained Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian talks to journalists as she leaves the Revolutionary Court after a hearing on August 10, 2015 in the capital Tehran. The trial of 39-year-old Iranian-American journalist, Jason Rezaian who has been in custody for more than a year, resumed behind closed doors, in what could be the final hearing before a judgment is issued on whether he spied on Iran. AFP PHOTO / BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
Ali Rezaian, brother of Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post's Tehran Bureau Chief who is currently in Evin Prison in Iran, talks about the photo of his brother at a news conference at the National Press Club during update on the case in Washington, Tuesday, July 22, 2015. The Washington Post, stymied in its efforts to win the release of journalist Rezaian from Iran, has filed an urgent petition asking help from a United Nations agency. Rezaian was arrested over a year ago and has been held for months without charges in Iran's Evin Prison. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)
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Rubio said that the deal shows "weakness" on the part of Washington, and if he were elected president, Iran would not dare to detain Americans because it would face tough consequences. He said the start of his presidency would be like that of Ronald Reagan in 1981, when Iran released hostages taken at the American embassy in Tehran in 1979.

A senior Obama administration official pushed back against criticism of the prisoner swap, saying that those held in the United States were not a major threat, and the administration made a "judgment" that brought detained Americans home.

"If people want to say that they were for leaving these Americans in prison, they should say so. But the fact of the matter is this was our opportunity to bring them home," the official told reporters on a conference call.

(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Alan Crosby)

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