WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – Jacob Abedini's birthday came and went March 17 with his father Saeed still captive in an Iranian prison despite President Obama's January promise to 'try very hard' to free the pastor by the young boy's birthday.
On March 20 the White House published an online statement that asks for the return of Saeed Abedini "to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father," referencing his "two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs."
The online posting is not an official diplomatic communication, and it is not clear why the White House chose this medium to engage the issue when it has U.S. officials in direct contact with Iranian negotiators attempting to forge a deal about that country's controversial nuclear program.
Abedini was one of four U.S. citizens who received mention in two sentences each in the statement.
Supporters have been anticipating some tangible action from the president since a Jan 27. meeting with the Abedini family during which the president told six-year-old Jacob "I am going to try very hard to make that happen" when asked by the young boy to "please bring my Daddy home" for his seventh birthday.
The older Abedini has been enduring physical and mental torture since his arrest on January 27, 2013, for allegedly "undermining Iran's national security" by sharing the Gospel to those who wanted to hear it.
He had to be hospitalized, at least once, as a result of internal injuries received from severe beatings -- he was treated for two months, but was yanked from the facility before receiving needed surgery -- and he has been subjected to such psychological abuse as being forced to watch the beatings and executions of fellow prisoners with the threat that he was next.
Supporters' efforts to secure Abedini's release have been complicated because of the White House's desire not to rock the boat during negotiations with Iran over its nuclear power program in a deal that likely will be defining for the Obama administration as far as foreign policy goes.
A key provision of that deal involves the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate. It has more than 10,000 in service now, and the United States initially sought to reduce those to between 500 and 1,500 then adjusted its goal to 4,000. Now, according to a report by the AP last week, the U.S. has set a threshold of 6,000 active centrifuges.
Ironically, a greater number of machines would be needed to support operations of nuclear reactors which could power the country, but Iran would be able to generate enough fuel for a nuclear weapon within the limit of centrifuges now being discussed.
Such experts as former CIA deputy director Michael Morell have said enough bomb-grade material could be supplied from the work of as few as 5,000 centrifuges.
"If you have a power [generating] program, you need a lot more," Morell said on the Charley Rose program. "By limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon."
The international implications of the situation appear to be lost on young Jacob who simply wants his father home. Earlier this month, he sent an invitation to his daddy who is being held at Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, Iran. Unfortunately, the father had to explain he could not be home for the birthday celebration, but he reassured the boy he had a heaavenly Father who would attend in his stead.
"I might not be there on your birthday and that breaks my heart as your father," he wrote back. "But I know the One who is there on your birthday, who is there for you and cares for you more than anyone could imagine. HE IS THERE with you and His name is I AM WHO I AM."
The older Abedini also used the occasion to invite his son to seek Christ.
"God came in human flesh in Jesus Christ all the way from heaven to the earth to give us the gift of salvation by being crucified on the cross for the punishment of our sin," he explained to his son. "So on this special day, I want you to accept this gift of salvation. Invite Jesus into your heart as you have invited me to your birthday."
Saeed Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000 while he still lived in Tehran. Two years later, he met and married his wife Naghmeh, an American citizen. He is said to have established 100 house churches in 30 Iranian cities with more than 2,000 members before moving with her to the United States in 2005. He was granted U.S. citizenship in 2010, while also maintaining his citizenship in Iran.
Since 2009, he had traveled regularly back to his home country to visit family and to build a government approved orphanage in the city of Rasht.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested him at his parents' home in Tehran during a 2012 visit, and he was imprisoned on charges of starting churches – a religious activity banned since 2005.