Sen. James Risch (R., Idaho) pressed Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs at the State Department, on the status of Pastor Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho who remains imprisoned in Iran. Sherman was testifying at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "Negotiations on Iran’s Nuclear Program" Tuesday.
Risch criticized the administration’s efforts to negotiate with Iran while Abedini remains imprisoned and abused. Abedini was detained last year for starting Christian house churches in Iran and was later sentenced to eight years in prison for "undermining the national security of Iran."
"Somebody needs to look these people in the eye and tell them they're not getting another penny and they're not getting anything until they do a very simple act of letting three absolutely innocent Americans go free. I hope you'll convey that to the foreign minister, and I would hope Secretary Kerry would convey that to the foreign minister. This is absolutely outrageous, Risch said.
The full exchange is available below:
SENATOR JAMES RISCH: But in any event, I want to focus on just a couple of aspects. Number one, Pastor Saeed Abedini is a constituent of mine. He is held in jail in Iran; his only crime is being a Christian. You know, last week I see where we showered the Iranians with, what, $500 million. Why can't we get this guy out of jail? I'm — you said that Secretary Kerry had a conversation with the foreign minister, Zarif, this weekend at the meeting in Munich. Can you tell us what the substance of that conversation was?
MS. SHERMAN: Certainly, Senator. First of all, we completely agree with you. Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Robert Levinson should all be home with their families, and nothing I can say today — because they are not yet home — will be satisfactory to you or to their families. And I would agree with them and agree with you, in that regard. Secretary Kerry raised these situations with the foreign minister, insisted that these be addressed as quickly as possible, that there was no basis for any of the three of them to be held. And indeed, we are doing whatever we can in whatever channel we can to bring them home as quickly as possible.
SEN. RISCH: Well, Ms. Sherman, you know, that's not good enough. Those are just words. Somebody needs to look these people in the eye and tell them they're not getting another penny and they're not getting anything until they do a very simple act of letting three absolutely innocent Americans go free. I hope you'll convey that to the foreign minister, and I would hope Secretary Kerry would convey that to the foreign minister. This is absolutely outrageous — for everything we've given to the Iranians, and then still to hold this. I mean, this is absolute nonsense.