State Department dodges hearing with wife of American pastor jailed in Iran

Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke

State Department officials avoided a confrontation with the wife of an American pastor imprisoned in Iran by skipping a congressional hearing about whether the United States is doing enough to pressure Iran about human rights abuses.

“I must tell you that I am disappointed with my government,” Naghmeh Abedini, who lives with her family in Idaho, said in her statement before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission today on Capitol Hill. “I am disappointed that our President and our State Department have not fully engaged this case – disappointed that this great country is not doing more to free my husband, a U.S. citizen.”

“It is amazing,” Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who co-chairs the commission, told Fox when asked about the State Department’s absence. “I can’t, almost, believe it.”

It’s not very surprising, though, given the State Department’s record on Abedini’s case. Before her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, was put on trial in Iran for being a Christian, American officials told her that Iran’s refusal to recognize his U.S. citizenship prevented them from helping him, as The Washington Examiner reported.

“Let me be clear: under no circumstances should the U.S. State Department allow Iran to determine who is or isn’t a U.S. citizen and who the U.S. should protect,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said in a statement.

Mrs. Abedini announced that the State Department has gone a step further. “We should know that as American citizens, our government will stand up for us,” she said in her prepared statement. “I have been told that I have not requested the assistance of the State Department. That is not the case. I have pleaded many times for their help to free my husband. I continue to ask our government to bring my husband, my children’s father, back home.”

Secretary of State John Kerry has not called for Abedini’s release since he took office, despite a letter from over 80 members of Congress requesting that he do so. (Kerry did denounce Abedini’s imprisonment during his confirmation hearing.)

“As an American citizen, Mr. Abedini deserves nothing less than the exercising of every diplomatic tool of the U.S. government to defend his basic human rights,” the bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers — led by Franks and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., wrote in the letter last month.

The American Center for Law and Justice’s Jordan Sekulow, which represents Mrs. Abedini, summarized the State Department’s lack of involvement in a statement today.

“The fact that the State Department refused to send a representative to this hearing underscores the lack of concern and engagement by the Obama Administration in securing the freedom of a U.S. citizen,” said Jordan Sekulow. We believe that there is a great deal more that our White House and State Department can and should do for Pastor Saeed. To date, there has been minimal involvement from the White House press secretary and a State Department spokesperson. Their brief statements have come only as responses to questions asked by reporters. There is no formal written statement from either the White House or the State Department condemning Iran and calling for Pastor Saeed’s release. Our President and Secretary of State should lend their voices personally to the growing chorus calling for Pastor Saeed’s release.”


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