U.S. Senate abandons Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini in Islamic prison

by Gregory Tomlin, |
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WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – The Senate has passed a bill both Republicans and Democrats claim will give Congress authority to review any nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran, but the legislation was stripped of amendments that would have mandated the release of American pastor Saeed Abedini and other American hostages before a deal is completed.

Abedini, who lived in Idaho and holds dual citizenship in both Iran and the U.S., traveled to Iran in 2012 to help build an orphanage in the country of his birth. He was arrested during the trip for spreading Christianity and insulting Islam. An Islamic court in the country sentenced him to an eight-year prison term.

Also being held in Iran are Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, and Robert Levinson. A retired FBI and DEA agent, Levinson disappeared inside Iran in 2007 and has been missing since. Levinson's family members reportedly received a set of "proof of life" photos in 2013.

During the Senate's debate over the provision, sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker [R-TN], Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio offered an amendment that no deal could be concluded with Iran "until all United States citizens unjustly detained by Iran" were returned home. Roy Blunt [R-MO] also offered an amendment calling for the release of the prisoners.

The White House signaled April 30 that it would veto any bill with a provision about the return of American citizens in it, and the threat was taken seriously by Senate Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell [R-KY] said he favored a quick end to the debate in order to pass the amended bill as proposed by Sen. Corker more than a month ago.

That version of the language amended to HR 1191, a tax bill for emergency response workers, supposedly improved Congress's standing in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Critics have argued such authority is difficult to find in the Corker amendment.

Corker's amendment requires the President to submit to Congress the English text of a nuclear agreement for evaluation and review, along with the Persian text. Corker said it was important for the Senate to evaluate what both sides believe a nuclear agreement entails.

Sen. Ben Cardin [D-MD], who sponsored the amended bill with Corker, told other senators amendments concerned with items such as the return of individual Americans would jeopardize the bill – they were "poison pills" the president wouldn't be able to swallow.

Such amendments, Cardin said, "would add certification requirements on Iran not participating in terrorism, or its ballistic missile program, or its human rights record, or its interference with the sovereignty of other countries, or the return of U.S. citizens who are improperly being held."

"Every member of this body agrees that Iran needs to respond to those issues, and we have tools available to deal with that. We have sanctions, regimes that deal with human rights violations, sponsoring terrorism, ballistic missile programs. This bill deals with stopping Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state," Cardin said.

Blunt told the St. Louis Dispatch after the Senate vote to approve the bill that he will continue pressing for the release of Abedini and the other Americans.

"It is outrageous that after two years of negotiations, Iranian officials continue to hold four American citizens as prisoners without any real cause," Blunt told the newspaper.