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Advocates for an American pastor imprisoned in Iran over his Christian faith are accusing the U.S. of surrendering in the fight for his freedom.
The charge is based on a tweet from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said: “Our relationship w/ the world is based on Iranian nation’s interests. In #Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iranian nation’s will.”
That, say advocates for American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been in Iran’s prison system since 2012, describes how the world views America’s actions.
American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said the message is clear and unambiguous.
“To use a word like that, surrender, is in line with what we’ve said about this administration and that they betrayed Saeed Abedini, who is an American citizen wrongfully imprisoned in Iran. And the U. S. government and this administration were unwilling to make his release a precondition for negotiations,” he said.
“The release isn’t a condition for implementation of this deal, which benefits Iran economically. His release isn’t even a condition for any further negotiations with Iran. The U. S. has its best chance to make some sort of deal with Iran, and we have our best relations with Iran since the 1979 revolution, and Pastor Abedini’s release isn’t even on the table,” Sekulow said.
He said another feature of the tweet was that it appeared to have been written originally in English, not translated from Farsi.
“That word was not translated from Farsi and was to appease the hardliners. However, we know that it was aimed directly at the West and the United States in particular. There was no translation; he tweeted it directly in English,” Sekulow said.
The major hurdle in U. S.-Iran relations is the appearance of weakness, he said.
“In the Middle East, looking weak, looking like we’re not united, looking like we will accept the tweet and accept this kind of treatment of one of our own citizens, it sends the wrong message. It says the opposite of the kind of message that we want to send when dealing with these world powers,” said Sekulow
Sekulow added that an emboldened Iran will be far less likely to make deals and accept alterations in the agreement that has already been reached.
“Who would have thought that one of the first statements this year that we hear from the president of Iran is that we have surrendered? It wasn’t just rhetoric. It was not the kind of message you would send for diplomacy; but he can make the case that we have surrendered, that we’ve given a lot and so far, have gotten nothing in return,” Sekulow said.
Sekulow said he sees no sign that Obama is going to change his position regarding a demand for Abedini’s release.
“So far this year, we’ve seen no statements on the pastor. We’ve seen nothing from the State Department. When their president is mocking us on Twitter, our president is praising the diplomatic successes that he says are ongoing,” he said. “We have a situation where it doesn’t add up, and this administration is living in a completely different reality.”
It’s why, he said, a congressional plan to impose sanctions on Iran is gaining bipartisan support.
“The administration is intentionally unwilling to go to bat for an American citizen. Then you have this agreement between the president and Sen. Harry Reid to prevent a vote on a bill on sanctions. It’s not just a Republican and Democrat issue. The bill’s support is bipartisan,” Sekulow said.
He referred to Senate Bill 1881, the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2013. The bill, introduced by New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, has gained support and now has 58 co-sponsors, up from the 33 just before the Christmas recess. However, a vote on the bill is being held up by Reid.
Sekulow believes Reid is blocking the vote because of pressure from the White House.
“It’s only because of the White House. The Obama White House is saying things like, ‘This will lead us to war,’ even though some Democrats have been very critical of the White House on this issue.
“It’s not partisan. It’s not just Democrats versus Republicans. The only reason the bill is not moving forward is because of the White House. The reason the White House has upped the pressure is that they know there are enough votes to possibly override a presidential veto on this bill,” Sekulow said.
Reid’s office did not respond to WND requests for comment.
Sekulow said there is real discontent on the Democrat side of the aisle and that they have not been convinced that the Iran deal is a good one.
“If you can’t convince members of your own party that the deal is a good one, that’s a very bad sign,” he said.
Iran aware of pastor’s importance
WND reported in December that Saeed Abedini’s wife, Nagmeh Abedini, testified before a House subcommittee hearing on human rights. The hearing was chaired by New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, who observed the injustice of the pastor’s jail time.
“Pastor Abedini is an American citizen, but he was told he could re-enter Iran to carry on his relief work. The Iranian government offered him safe entry. He accepted the Iranian government’s offer for safe passage, but the Iranian government hasn’t kept its promise,” Smith said.
Smith said “the fact that they moved him to the more dangerous prison shows that they knew he would be an important factor in the negotiations.”
“He’s an American citizen, and he remains in an absolute hell-hole in Iran. We can’t waste this opportunity.”
Nagmeh Abedini has issued a statement saying she plans to attend the sixth annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in February.
“This will give me a worldwide platform to speak out about religious freedom issues and Christian persecution,” she said.
Christian human rights groups are also planning a prayer vigil with Rev. Patrick Mahoney in front of the White House on March 6.
WND reported earlier when analysts, human rights activists and even a congressman agreed that Abedini’s release was neglected because he’s a Christian.
One of those experts is William Murray, president of the Religious Freedom Coalition, who told WND the Obama administration doesn’t see religion the same way a Christian would. And that’s why the administration’s actions regarding Abedini are what they are.
“He sees religion as a ‘tradition,’ as in the way Joe Biden says he’s from a Catholic tradition,” Murray said. “Obama, like most secularists, cannot understand religion affecting the lives of those that believe outside the setting of a church, hence his reference to freedom of worship that he confuses with freedom of religion.”
Former PLO and Muslim Brotherhood operative turned religious liberty activist Walid Shoebat said the Obama administration has indeed sent signals that Christian persecution is not at the top of its priority list.
“To President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, securing an agreement with Iran over the nuclear issue was more important than human rights issues, including the release of pastor Saeed Abedini,” Shoebat said.
Smith told WND it’s clear the Obama administration has failed to address human rights for Christians.
“There’s been a lack of concern for Christians, and there’s been a pattern. Mrs. Clinton, on her first visit to China, said, ‘I’m not going to let human rights interfere,’ her words, ‘with climate change and other issues,’ and I find that appalling,” Smith said.
“That told every dissident, religious, or pro-democracy advocates … we just demoted human rights in a very serious way,” Smith said.
Abedini first was held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison and later was transferred to an even worse location – the 22,000-inmate Rajai Shahr, home to drug dealers, murderers and rapists. He was working in Iran under a government-approved building plan when he was arrested in 2012.