Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Obama called on the foreign governments to release the two men and respect religious freedom.
“We pray for Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who’s been held in North Korea for 15 months, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor,” Obama said. “His family wants him home. And the United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release because Kenneth Bae deserves to be free.”
It's still unclear exactly what Bae did to be arrested, but he has been charged with apparently trying to overthrow the North Korean government. Or maybe because he is a Christian -- the issue is murky.
This appears to be Obama's first public comment about Bae. Reps. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., invited Bae's mother and sister to the president's State of the Union address in January.
Obama also urged the Iranian government to release Saeed Abedini.
“We pray for pastor Saeed Abedini. He’s been held in Iran for more than 18 months, sentenced to eight years in prison on charges relating to his Christian beliefs,” Obama said. “And as we continue to work for his freedom, today, again, we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini so he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho.”
Abedini has been held prisoner for 18 months, but his release has not been included in negotiations with the Iranian government, even though an Iranian prisoner in the U.S. was sent back. Secretary of State John Kerry has said his fate -- and that of other Americans believed to be held in Iran -- would not be tied to ongoing negotiations over Iran's nuclear program because "we believe that prejudices them, and also prejudices the negotiations. We don't want them to become the hostages or pawns of a process that then gets played against something they want with respect to the nuclear program."