As the United States and Iran resume talks to reach a final nuclear agreement, there’s growing concern that the Obama administration could actually reach a deal with Iran – without securing the release of American Pastor Saeed Abedini – as well as three other Americans – who remain imprisoned in Iran.

Such a development would be outrageous – but based on what is happening now, that could very well occur.

The Obama administration has refused to ask for the release of Pastor Saeed and the other imprisoned Americans at the bargaining table. And that is a tremendous mistake.

The Obama administration has refused to ask for the release of Pastor Saeed and the other imprisoned Americans at the bargaining table. And that is a tremendous mistake.

The Obama administration has refused to ask for the release of Pastor Saeed and the other imprisoned Americans at the bargaining table. And that is a tremendous mistake.

While President Obama told the Abedini family that securing the release of Pastor Saeed – a U.S. citizen – is a “top priority” – there’s little evidence to suggest that is happening.

At the White House and the State Department, the message is the same: The Americans in captivity are discussed on the “sidelines” to the nuclear talks.  A State Department spokesperson put it bluntly: “They are not related ... their fate and the outcome of these cases should in no way be tied to the nuclear issue.”

How can the lives of four Americans not be addressed at the bargaining table? How can their imprisonment be relegated to the “sidelines”?

Such a strategy is unconscionable. 

The fact is these Americans – including Pastor Saeed – are hostages. And our government must do everything in its power to secure their release.  The best way to do that right now is at the bargaining table. And it may be the only chance left to secure their freedom.

The U.S. must operate from a position of strength with Iran. Secretary of State Kerry should tell Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif that there will be no final agreement of any kind until the Americans are freed and returned to their families. It really needs to be that simple and direct.

Now, there’s growing pressure – including from members of Congress – for the negotiators to make the release of the Americans a priority at the bargaining table. 

“There’s a lot wrong with negotiating a deal with Iran, but the ongoing nuclear talks – love them or hate them – are probably the only chance for the administration to ask for the return of Amir Hekmati and others,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, (R-Calif.). “Frankly, it should have happened already, ahead of reaching just the framework, but with each day and concession, the administration loses its leverage and influence.”   

We know the condition of Pastor Saeed continues to worsen in his Iranian prison cell. His two-and-a-half-years in captivity are taking a toll. Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, received an update from a family member who visited with Pastor Saeed just days ago.

“His physical and psychological strength has been greatly weakened throughout his imprisonment,” Naghmeh said.  “The lack of clean water and good nutrition has taken a toll on Saeed’s physical well-being. Psychologically, in the weeks past he has heard the cries of dozens of prisoners who have been executed in his prison. He has faced constant harassment and intimidation, including threats that he will never walk as a free man again as the guards will see that his sentence is continually increased.”

It’s time the Obama administration put the American hostages front-and-center. These Americans and their families deserve nothing less. 

Mr. President, bring these hostages home before this critical opportunity slips away.

In the words of our client, Naghmeh:  “Our government must not forget that Saeed is not being held by the reformists with whom they negotiate but by radical hardliners who oppose what he represents – a Christian convert and an U.S. citizen. We cannot leave my husband’s fate in the hands of these radicals. I implore our government to remember the urgency of bringing Saeed home to our family.”

Actions always speak louder than words. And right now, the Abedini’s and the families of Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, and Robert Levinson want to see action – they want their loved ones home.

Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He’s a New York Times bestselling author. Jay’s latest book – “Unholy Alliance: The Agenda Iran, Russia, and Jihadists Share for Conquering the World” – is available now.  He hosts "Jay Sekulow Live"-- a daily radio show which is broadcast on more than 850 stations nationwide as well as Sirius/XM satellite radio. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.