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Senate race: Duckworth blasts Kirk’s remarks on hostages in Iran

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. | Associated Press and Sun-Times photos

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who has been an outspoken critic of President Obama’s decision to hand over $400 million in cash to Iran on the same day the country released U.S. hostages, said in a radio interview that “we didn’t have to get our guys back,” a comment that sparked sharp criticism from his opponent on Friday.

In an interview on the Steve Cochran Show on WGN AM 720 Thursday, Cochran called the hostage situation “clumsy, because we had to get our guys back but there had to be a way to get them back without making . . . ”

Kirk, who’s facing a tough re-election campaign against U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, interjected. “But you know, we didn’t have to get our guys back. We shouldn’t have paid the ransom,” Kirk said.

“The irony is the State Department, shortly after the payment was made issued a worldwide travel alert to Americans saying, ‘You know there are a lot of people out there looking to kidnap an American in return for a ransom payment,’” Kirk said.

Duckworth on Friday released a statement about Kirk’s comments, calling them “unacceptable.”

“Mark Kirk was in the Navy and he should know that our country doesn’t leave its people behind. I’m sure thankful my buddies didn’t forget that when my Black Hawk was shot down over enemy territory,” Duckworth said in a statement. “Saying we don’t have an obligation to ‘get our guys back’ from a hostile country like Iran is unacceptable. Whenever Americans are imprisoned by our adversaries, we don’t leave them behind. That’s not who we are.”

Kirk’s campaign on Friday shot back, defending the senator’s opposition to “paying ransom” while criticizing Duckworth.

“It is not surprising that Tammy Duckworth, the same person who wants to bring 200,000 un-vetted Syrian refugees into our country, supports paying ransom to terrorists and terror sponsoring regimes that kidnap our citizens,” Kirk campaign manager Kevin Artl said. “Paying ransom is a dangerous precedent that will only invite more kidnapping of American citizens abroad.”

In the WGN interview, Kirk said he didn’t want America to “put a price on the heads of Americans.” Kirk and other Republican legislators are trying to stop any future “ransom” payments to Iran.

Kirk said on the radio show that he’s backing legislation by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., to block “ransom” payments and to send any money from judgment funds — where the $400 million came from — to instead go to the victims of Iranian terror.

This isn’t the first time Kirk has been under fire for comments about the hostage situation. Last month he told the editorial board of the State Journal-Register in Springfield that Obama was “acting like the drug dealer in chief” for his role in what he called a “ransom” payment.

The Obama administration has denied GOP criticisms that the payment was “ransom,” saying the Iranian government would have received that payment despite the hostages. The money came from an account used to buy military equipment. But that equipment was never delivered after the shah’s government was overthrown in 1979.

Kirk’s campaign this week criticized Duckworth for what they called 10 missed votes in Congress as she campaigned in Illinois.

Kirk returned to Washington D.C. late last week to prepare for Senate sessions, skipping Labor Day campaigning.