BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The wife of an Idaho pastor held prisoner in Iran said Tuesday she's deeply disappointed that the U.S. agreed to a nuclear deal with the Mideast nation without first getting her husband released.
Naghmeh Abedini said she met with President Barack Obama in January while he was visiting Boise and urged him not to approve the deal without working on securing her husband's freedom.
However, Abedini, who lives in Boise with their two children, now says she's focused on lobbying Congress to review the deal with her family in mind. Abedini added that she plans on meeting with Idaho's congressional delegation, particularly with U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and Sen. Jim Risch, both Republicans.
"Once we walk away from this deal, we lose leverage," she said.
Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, 34, has been in Iranian custody since September 2012. He was sentenced to eight years for what was termed undermining state security when he attempted to build a church network in private homes. Abedini is of Iranian origin, but he had been living in Boise.
"The Iranian government claims to want constructive engagement with the world. Yet, Iran refuses to free Boise Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned since 2012," said Labrador in a statement.
Labrador said he is reviewing the proposed nuclear deal and has not yet decided if he is in favor of it. The congressman added that last month the House unanimously called for the release of all U.S. citizens currently being held in Iran.
Meanwhile, Risch and fellow Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo released statements criticizing the deal and argued Abedini's release should have been a prerequisite.
"The failure of the administration to secure the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, which should have been a simple task, even at the outset of negotiations, has been ignored despite the chorus of pleas to achieve this goal," Risch said.
Other Abedini supporters questioned Obama's statement that releasing Abedini is a priority.
"It is unconscionable that the Obama Administration would sign a deal with Iran without securing the freedom of Pastor Saeed who has been imprisoned for nearly three years simply because of his Christian faith," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice in a statement. "President Obama told the Abedini family face-to-face that he considered the release of Pastor Saeed a 'top priority.' How could that be a 'top priority' when a deal is reached and Pastor Saeed is left behind??