Our nation is entering a dangerous new phase in its relationship with Iran.
Its nuclear program is proceeding, it continues to threaten to destroy Israel, it maintains its support for international terror and it is wrongfully imprisoning Americans, including a pastor, Saeed Abedini, merely because of his Christian faith.
We want to see ALL Americans held in Iran’s prisons freed and have been working for more than two years to secure the release of Pastor Saeed as we represent his wife and two young children who reside in the U.S.
With just two years left on President Obama’s time in office the administration is obviously “desperate” to strike a deal with Iran. So desperate, in fact, that the U.S. appears ready to rely on an alleged fatwa—a religious declaration—against nuclear weapons by Iran’s supreme leader as a basis for trusting Iran.
In other words, the U.S. may conclude a nuclear deal with Iran by the November 24th deadline because—as Secretary Kerry stated last week in Jordan—he respects the fatwa “enormously as a matter of religious edict.”
Let me get this straight. We’re trusting Iran because the Secretary of State trusts its leader’s fatwas?
Does this make sense? Is there any real basis for trusting Iran?
At the ACLJ, we’ve been representing the family of Pastor Saeed throughout his more than two year ordeal in Iranian prison, and we know that Iran’s imprisonment and abuse of just this one American citizen violates numerous Iranian promises, including promises in the Iranian constitution and in U.N. declarations.
The country, officially known as “the Islamic Republic of Iran,” has pledged to respect the rights of Christians and other religious minorities in Iran, yet it violates the pledge repeatedly and flagrantly.
Rather than trust Iran’s fatwas, let’s see if we can observe its actions.
And the first, best, action it can take to build trust is releasing Pastor Saeed. If Iran is not even willing to do that—not willing to release a husband and father who is no threat to the Iranian regime—then does any rational person believe it will abandon its national aspiration to build a nuclear weapon, the one weapon that could destroy Israel and bring immense suffering to the world?
Trust is built in small steps, not in grand declarations -- not even in religious declarations that our Secretary of State respects so “enormously.”
Yes, we know that Pastor Saeed is only one man and there are only a few Americans held in Iran while a nuclear deal could impact the lives of millions. And, no, we are not suggesting that Pastor Saeed and the others should be ransomed in exchange for nuclear concessions. Nor should he be a formal part of any nuclear deal with Iran.
But we are suggesting this is a test—a test of the Iranian regime’s good will and good faith. Words are one thing, actions another thing entirely. And the action of releasing Pastor Saeed would speak volumes.
It would start to right the wrong of his arrest and conviction, bringing long-delayed justice to a suffering man.
It would send a signal to internal radicals, that Christians are entitled to basic human rights.
It would send a signal to the United States, that it respects our citizens and will end its longstanding practice of holding imprisoning our innocent citizens, holding them as pawns to internal and external politics.
Pastor Saeed has suffered long enough. America has trusted Iran too much. The combination of those two facts presents a compelling case for demanding Pastor Saeed’s release now, before any nuclear deal.
If we do not make this demand, if we consent to his continued imprisonment and abuse, we’ll send our own message to Iran, to the world, and to our own citizens. That message will be an old one—a message of weakness and appeasement that has long brought western democracies to grief and defeat.
Our enemies exploit our weakness, our friends despise it, and the innocent suffer. Do we not have the strength of will—the moral conviction—to stand up for one of our own? A peaceful man abused simply for his faith?
President Obama has declared that America does not leave anyone behind. It’s time to put those words to the test.
Mr. President, make no deals with nations that imprison and abuse innocent Americans. Make no deals with nations unwilling to show the slightest good faith or take even the most risk-free geopolitical actions to treat our citizens justly.
A fatwa is not a basis for peace. Words alone cannot bring trust. Only actions matter, and there is one action of vital importance to a family in Idaho that’s been missing their husband and father for more than two long years. That same action is important to the larger American family, as our hearts have hurt while the Abedinis have suffered.
Save American Pastor Saeed and all Americans held in Iran. Without their freedom, there can be no trust.
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He also serves as a member of President Trump’s legal team. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.