The wife of an American pastor imprisoned for his faith in Iran said she was shocked to learn the U.S. government had been conducting secret negotiations with Iran even as State Department officials told her they could do little to free her husband because the nations have no diplomatic relations.
Naghmeh Abedini, whose husband, Saeed Abedini, is serving an eight-year prison term in Iran after being arrested more than a year ago while visiting his homeland, told FoxNews.com she felt betrayed when she later learned U.S. diplomats were negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran even while claiming nothing could be done for her husband.
“Initially, when I went to the U.S. government, they said we don’t have a direct relationship with Iran," Naghmeh Abdeini said, moments after telling a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee her husband's health is failing in prison. "Here we were sitting across table from Iran. It was our best leverage. It should have been a precondition."
The Boise, Idaho, mother of two said her husband's relatives in Iran have been able to meet with him sporadically, and have given her grim news about his condition. She said the imprisoned American's father saw Abedini 10 days ago and reported that has internal bleeding from repeated beatings at the hands of guards and fellow inmates and was covered with lice.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who chairs the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, said "time is running out" for Abedini, who experts believe would be unlikely to survive eight years in Iran’s brutal prison system. Smith said Abedini and two other Americans being held in Iran should have been the first order of business when U.S. and Iranian diplomats sat down for talks, sometime earlier this year.
"You begin every conversation with it; it should be center of every conversation and every conversation should end with it,” Smith told FoxNews.com. “How can we have a discussion with any regime when they are torturing our citizens?"
Earlier, lawmakers on the panel heard the distraught wife detail her fears for her husband and the heartbreak she and their two children feel due to his absence.
"His condition has worsened and the kids and I fear his life," she said, before holding up a photograph of her children on their first day of school. "Tears were streaming down my face as I got the kids ready for school with their father missing."
Abedini "went to Iran to build an orphanage for Iranian children last year" and "remains in an absolute hell-hole prison," Smith told the committee.
A U.S. State Department official.
"We continue to have serious concerns about the fate of a dual national U.S.-Iranian detained in Iran Saeed Abedini," the official said. "As we noted previously, President Obama raised Mr. Abedini’s case in his Sept. 27 phone call with President [Hassan] Rouhani and we continue to urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Abedini so that he may be reunited with his family.
"We have been repeatedly clear that we are calling on Iran to release all detained U.S. citizens and we will continue our efforts until Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Robert Levinson all return home," the official added.
Abedini converted from Islam to Christianity more than a decade ago, and was previously sanctioned for evangelizing in Iran. But the 34-year-old father of two claims he had only returned to his native land to help establish an orphanage when authorities pulled him off a bus in August of 2012 and threw him into the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.
He was later sentenced to eight years and has since been moved to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, a prison known to house Iran’s most violent criminals. His supporters say he has been beaten and tortured in the prison. According to reports, Rajai Shahr Prison was built to accommodate 5,000 inmates, but at present houses about 22,000, which has led to severe overcrowding and inhumane conditions.
Hekmati, a U.S. Marine who went to Iran to visit his grandparents, was charged with spying and sentenced to death. Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in March, 2007, while investigating cigarette smuggling on the Kish Islands. Iran has said they are not holding Levinson, but U.S. officials believe otherwise.
Lisa Daftari is a Fox News contributor specializing in Middle Eastern affairs.