NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – The release of American pastor Saeed Abedini, held unlawfully in Iran since 2012, was not a topic of discussion in the final stages of nuclear negotiations between the United States, European powers, and Iran.
Supporters of the pastor had hoped his release, along with that of three other Americans held in Iran, would be a precondition of any deal, but their hopes were dashed when the terms of the agreement were laid out by President Barack Obama.
Saeed, though Iranian-born, is a U.S. citizen and pastor from Boise, Idaho. He traveled to Iran in 2012 with plans to build an orphanage there. While in the country, he was detained by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard because of his profession of Christianity. Abedini was placed under house arrest, but later sent to Evin Prison, one of the nation's most notorious.
Also held in Iran are Amir Hekmati, a U.S. Marine detained whom the Iranians say is a spy, Washington Post Iran Bureau Chief Jason Rezaian, and ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson.
Naghmeh Abedini, wife of the Idaho pastor, said she was disappointed that her husband and the other Americans were not released as part of the agreement.
"I plead with Congress to ensure that my husband, an American citizen, is not left behind," Naghmeh said. "With the announcement of a deal and yet silence as to the fate of Saeed and the other Americans held hostage in Iran, their fate lies now in the hands of Congress. I plead with each member of Congress to review the deal with our family at the forefront of their thoughts. Congress holds the key to bringing my husband home, to returning the father to my children."
"My children have desperately missed the loving embrace of their father for the last three years of their lives. They have grown up almost half of their lives without their father. Please help us ensure the remainder of their childhood includes both a mother and a father," she said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned Abedini and the other Americans in a statement shortly after the announcement that a deal had been reached. Kerry said the United States continued to call on Iran immediately to release all detained American citizens.
"These Americans have remained in our thoughts throughout this negotiation," Kerry said.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice, which has organized the effort to obtain Abedini's release, said in a video on the organizations website that he places the blame for Abedini's continued imprisonment "squarely on President Obama."
"The idea that we cut a nuclear deal with Iran and did not secure the release of four Americans is absurd. It is wrong, and look at the message it sends to the rest of the world – we leave our own behind," Sekulow said.