President Obama will meet Wednesday with the family of an American pastor who has been languishing in an Iranian prison for more than two years.
The American Center for Law and Justice announced late Tuesday that Obama, who was scheduled to visit Boise, Idaho to push for some of the initiatives he discussed in his State of the Union address, will meet with Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of Saeed Abedini.
"I was overjoyed when I heard that President Obama wanted to meet with the kids and I during his short visit here in Boise," Naghmeh Abedini said in a statement released by the ACLJ. "I have tried over the last two years to meet with the president or even get a phone call from him without success. It is truly an answer to prayer that he is coming to Boise and it is a miracle that he is meeting with us. I see God’s hand in arranging this crucial meeting."
Previously, Naghmeh Abedini has asked Obama to use ongoing nuclear weapons talks with Tehran as leverage for winning her husband's freedom.
Obama is scheduled to speak at Boise State University, the White House has said. Naghmeh Abedini plans to attend the speech, but it is not clear if the president will speak personally with her. A White House spokesman said no decision has been made on the matter.
President Obama has personally called on Iranian President Hasan Rouhani to free Abedini, as well as Amir Hekmati, a U.S. Marine who was charged with spying when he went to Iran to visit his grandmother and Robert Levinson, a CIA operative who disappeared in 2007 while in Iran supposedly researching a cigarette smuggling case. A senior White House official told Fox News that Obama raised the cases in a September 2013 phone call. Secretary of State John Kerry has also publicly called for Abedini's release.
But since the phone conversation, the West has been engaged in negotiations regarding Iran's rogue nuclear weapons program, and economic sanctions put in place to bring the Islamic Republic into international compliance. Abedini's supporters complain that Obama has led an easing of sanctions and unfreezing of assets held around the world without tying the action to freeing the imprisoned Americans.
"This is an important opportunity for President Obama to show the world that he is committed to protecting religious freedom and human rights," Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, which represents Naghmeh Abedini and her two young children, said earlier Tuesday. "By taking a few minutes to meet with Naghmeh and her children, the President can show compassion and concern - and see the pain and the suffering this family has endured since Iran imprisoned Pastor Saeed - a U.S. citizen - nearly two and a half years ago."
Abedini was arrested in 2009, but released after pledging to stop formally organizing house churches in Iran. He became a U.S. citizen in 2010, but remained committed to helping improve conditions in his homeland. When he returned to Iran in 2012 to help build a state-run, secular orphanage, police pulled him off a bus and imprisoned him. Over the last two-and-a-half years, Abedini has endured long stints in solitary confinement, and, according to his attorneys, beatings and torture at the hands of his jailers and fellow inmates. For months, he has been denied proper medical attention for his injuries, according to his family and attorneys.
Last August, Abedini's children, Jacob, 6, and Rebekka, 7, made a YouTube video in which they appealed to President Obama to help win their father's freedom.
"I miss him so much,” Rebekka says in the video.