The wife of an American pastor imprisoned in Iran is hoping Pope Francis can help secure her husband’s release.
Naghmeh Abedini, married to pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran for three years, says the leader of the Catholic church would be a strong advocate for the release of her husband and the two other Americans being held in Iran.
“He would be a crucial voice in getting Saeed out of prison,” she said. “They respect the pope, as a theocracy.”
Abedini has lobbied the Vatican for help releasing her husband, and will attend the pope's address to Congress Thursday as the guest of Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-North Carolina, who has helped advocate for her husband's freedom in Congress.
Saeed Abedini, along with Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and former Marine Amir Hekmati are being held in Iranian prisons on what the United States considers trumped-up charges. A fourth American, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, was kidnapped in Iran in 2007 and is thought to be held in the country.
Naghmeh Abedini's call for the pope’s assistance follows a report from Politico that the United States has asked the Vatican for help freeing Abedini and the other Americans held in Iran.
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said Wednesday the administration has "pursued a variety of avenues" to free the Americans held in Iran, adding that the ongoing efforts "are more effective when we don't talk about them publicly."
"The pope is clearly someone with significant moral influence even with those who are not Catholic," he continued.
A call to Vatican representatives was not immediately returned.
While she has not been informed of any active efforts on the Vatican’s part to secure his freedom, Naghmeh Abedini pointed to the pope’s role in facilitating the release of American Alan Gross from Cuba in December as an example of his influence –- noting that the Vatican’s role was revealed after the fact.
Pope Francis personally called on President Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro to resolve the imprisonment of Americans in Cuba.
“The pope, out of all the voices, is the most powerful,” Abedini said.
Pope Francis met with a delegation of Iranian women at the Vatican earlier this year, including Shahindokht Molaverdi, an Iranian vice president who told a Christian magazine the pope could help resolve tensions between the United States and Iran.
“Certainly this pope has an ability to bring people together, which can also influence governments,” Molaverdi told Crux. Speaking at the White House today, the pope appeared to endorse the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts to engage with Cuba and Iran.
“The efforts which were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom,” he said.
Abedini declined to comment on the Iran nuclear deal, but said she was disappointed that her husband and the other Americans were not released as part of the agreement.
ABC's Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.