- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2013

The wife of an Iranian-American Christian jailed in Iran called on President Obama to demand her husband’s release Thursday, the 444th day of his captivity, and to link the Iranian nuclear deal to his freedom.

Naghmeh Abedini told a House Foreign Affairs joint subcommittee hearing that she feels abandoned because Obama administration officials have failed to publicly call for the release of her husband, the Rev. Saeed Abedini, a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Mrs. Abedini said she is “thankful” that Mr. Obama expressed “concern” for her husband when he talked by phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in September, but she was “devastated” to learn that Mr. Obama failed to demand his release as a condition for negotiating a relaxation of economic sanctions on Iran as part of a six-month nuclear deal.

“My husband is suffering because he is a Christian. He is suffering because he is an American,” she said. “Yet his own government has abandoned him.”

The length of his imprisonment Thursday equals that of 52 Americans held by Iranian militants at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran from Nov. 4, 1979, to Jan. 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president.

Mr. Abedini, an Iranian-born Christian convert from Islam, was arrested Sept. 26, 2012, while visiting Iran with Iranian government permission to continue his earlier work at an orphanage in the city of Rasht on the Caspian Sea.

He and his wife had lived in Iran, where they established about 100 underground churches for Christian converts, until 2005 — when former President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad began persecuting unauthorized house churches. They fled to the United States and settled in Boise, Idaho.

Mr. Abedini initially was jailed in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, where he was tortured repeatedly. On Nov. 3, Iran transferred him to Rajai Shahr prison, where he is surrounded by murderers, rapists and other violent criminals.

“The Iranian regime sends prisoners to Rajai Shahr to disappear,” she said. “It sends prisoners to Rajai Shahr to die.”

CUBA IN SPOTLIGHT

From a handshake in South Africa to a Senate hearing in Washington, Cuba riled human rights advocates this week.

Fresh from criticizingPresident Obamafor his warm greeting to Cuban leaderRaul Castro during the memorial ceremony for Nelson Mandela, Sen. Marco Rubioused a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing to issue another complaint directed at the communist-controlled island.

Mr. Rubio, Florida Republican, quizzed Kevin Whitaker, a State Department official designated as the next U.S. ambassador to Colombia, about pro-Cuban remarks by Colombia PresidentJuan Manuel Santoson a Washington visit earlier this month.

Mr. Santos called on the U.S. to be more flexible with Cuba and ease its economic embargo imposed more than 50 years ago. However, Mr. Santos used the word “blockade,” which is an act of war, and not “embargo,” a legal trade sanction.

“What I see in the United States is particularly young people who think that the blockade is obsolete and does not work,” he said after meeting with Thomas J. Donohue, chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 5.

Mr. Rubio, whose parents fled Cuba in 1956, asked whether Mr. Santos was issuing a serious request or just trying to appease Cuba, which is hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and communist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC).

“The people of Cuba live under conditions that neither President Santos nor anybody in Colombia would accept for their own people,” Mr. Rubio said.

Mr. Whitaker declined to speculate on Mr. Santos’ motives. But the career diplomat noted that he is well aware of “Cuba, its government and the abuses committed by it.”

He served as director of the State Department office on Cuban affairs from 2002 to 2005.

Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com or @EmbassyRow.