While the debate about the nuclear deal with Iran centered on the way it legitimized Iran’s nuclear program, some Americans were devastated by another element of the administration’s rush to create a new détente with the ayatollahs. The family of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born American citizen who has been imprisoned by the Islamist regime for religious activities, was shocked that Secretary of State John Kerry signed onto the accord without also securing Abedini’s release. As CNN reported last week, the 33-year-old pastor is in ill heath in a dangerous prison. Given that President Obama let it be known that he had mentioned the fate of the American jailed for his Christian faith in a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it was thought that any deal with Tehran, especially one whose terms were so favorable to the regime, would also include Abedini’s freedom. But ten days after Kerry’s “mission accomplished” moment in Geneva, there is no indication that the Iranians have any intention of releasing Abedini.
But as bad as that makes the administration appear, an item first reported by Britain’s Daily Mail over the weekend makes the president’s decision to leave Abedini behind in his zeal for an Iranian deal look even worse. It turns out that the Mojtaba Atarodi, an Iranian scientist who was arrested in the U.S. back in 2011 for his work in trying to purchase equipment for the regime’s nuclear program, was set free in April of this year as part of the price paid by the U.S. for the start of the secret back-channel talks that led to the recent agreement. Along with three other Iranians involved in similar activity, Atarodi was sprung. According to the Daily Mail, in return President Obama got the negotiations he wanted as well as the release of two lost American hikers who were imprisoned when they strayed over the country’s border. But three Americans, including Abedini and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, remain in Iranian custody (Levinson disappeared in Iran and is unaccounted for). If the president has chosen to ignore the plight of these Americans who have been wrongfully imprisoned by a tyrannical regime and left them to rot in Iranian jails, then the U.S. embrace of Iran is even more disgraceful than even its most strident critics had thought.
It is possible that the three Americans will yet be ransomed by the administration as part of the follow-up negotiations that are supposed to come after the current agreement’s six-month period expires. There’s also the chance that Iran’s supposed moderates will reward the president for his appeasement of the regime by making a gift of these prisoners, perhaps before Christmas.
But no one who cares about their fate, or indeed about the lamentable state of human rights in Iran, could have taken much comfort from the answer given last week by National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden when asked why Abedini’s freedom had not been part of the deal. She dismissed the appeal by saying the talks in Geneva had “focused exclusively on nuclear issues.”
In other words, even though the president had already made a personal appeal for their release, by the time Kerry and chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman sat down to dicker with the Iranians, there had already been a conscious decision made to abandon the effort to free the Americans.
Was it too much to ask that Abedini and the other imprisoned Americans be let loose before any sanctions relief was delivered to the Iranians? Apparently it was for Obama and his team, who handed over billions in frozen assets to the ayatollahs in exchange for promises but not a single prisoner. Though the impact of economic sanctions and the threat of the use of force that supposedly President Obama has not taken off the table should have given the U.S. leverage to get at least these Americans home, if not a better deal, in his zeal for an agreement at any price, the president left them behind.
Given the way President Obama first ignored and then downplayed Tehran’s crushing of dissident protests back in the summer of 2009, he has already demonstrated that human-rights issues simply aren’t on his agenda in talks with Iran. The human tragedy of the three imprisoned Americans as well as the countless Iranians who suffer at the hands of this despotic Islamist regime doesn’t appear to matter much to him when compared to his obvious desire for better relations with their jailers. The lives of Saeed Abedini and the others in Iranian jails may not seem so important to those who foster delusions about détente with Iran. But if they die in Iranian prisons, their fate should lie heavily on the conscience of this president and all who serve him.