Dec. 12, 2013— -- The wife of an American pastor held in an Iranian prison today challenged President Obama, saying the Iranian government is using her husband to test his resolve when it comes to protecting Americans.
"My husband is suffering because he is a Christian. He's suffering because he's an American... Yet his own government did not fight for him when his captors were across the table," Naghmeh Abedini, wife of pastor Saeed Abedini, told lawmakers today, referring to recent nuclear negotiations between Iran and the U.S. "Iran is curious: How strong is our American president? How serious is he about our American security? Would he act with firm resolve to protect and defend?"
Saeed Abedini, an American citizen who has worked setting up churches in Iran for nearly a decade, was arrested in 2012 "on charges related to his religious beliefs," according to the State Department. His wife, Naghmeh, told lawmakers in a joint subcommittee hearing for the House Foreign Affairs Committee today that he has been subjected to torture and told that if he converts back to Islam, he would be set free.
Saeed Abedini is one of three Americans believed to be held in Iran.
Arizona-born Amir Hekmati, a former Marine, was arrested in Tehran in 2011 on charges of espionage. He was sentenced to death but later had that sentence overturned. Last month former FBI agent Robert Levinson became the longest-held American at nearly seven years in captivity, though the Iranian government has not admitted it is are holding him. Levinson disappeared while visiting Iran's Kish Island in March 2007.
In recent months, historically icy relations between the U.S. and the Middle Eastern nation appear to have warmed as the U.S. has dealt with the newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani, rather than his notoriously hostile predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. President Obama's phone call with Rouhani in September was the first direct contact between the heads of state since 1979.
In November the two countries reached a landmark, if temporary, deal concerning Iran's controversial nuclear program. At the time, the State Department said those negotiations focused "exclusively" on the nuclear deal, but said the U.S. government has "repeatedly raised" the case of detained American citizens "in our bilateral discussions with Iran, including President Obama's phone call with President Rouhani."
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment to ABC News last month about whether those discussions resulted in any concrete progress in the cases of the captive Americans.
In March, Secretary of State John Kerry said he was “deeply concerned” about Saeed Abedini’s fate in Iran. “The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released,” Kerry said.
"It is not enough," Naghmeh Abedini said today. "We need to see action to back our rhetoric, in the living, breathing form of Saeed Abedini... having been released."
"Even if our president can't see the reality, the rest of the world can," she said. "I hope and I pray our government... will realize how far we've fallen."
Today the State Department announced new sanctions against “a number of companies and individuals for evading international sanctions against Iran and for providing support for Iran’s nuclear program.”