Iran deadline: American pastor's fate still uncertain

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

In April both Iran and the United States agreed that Tuesday, June 30, would be the deadline to reach a nuclear agreement. That deadline has now come and gone. There’s no final agreement. And, four American hostages – including American Pastor Saeed Abedini – remain imprisoned in Iran.

What’s even been more troubling is the failure of the U.S. to demand – and secure the release of Pastor Saeed and the others – before any agreement is reached. For reasons unexplained, that has not been a key issue – not a priority – as the face-to-face negotiations have gone down to the wire.

The Obama administration repeatedly has said the plight of the captive Americans is brought up on the “sidelines” with Iran. On Tuesday, President Obama was asked about the fate of the imprisoned Americans at a press conference at the White House and said he continues to push with urgency to secure their release:

“This is something that we continue to push hard on irrespective of the nuclear deal,” President Obama said. “It’s a top priority for us to make sure that our people are treated fairly and on the face of it in the case of these individuals who’ve been held, they have not been and they are not being afforded the basic due process and legal rights that we afford visitors to our country so we're deeply concerned about it, we spend a lot of time pushing on it, and we will continue to do so . . . . There’s no lessening of the sense of urgency.”

It’s still our hope that President Obama and Secretary Kerry will do more than “continue to push hard on” securing the release of the American hostages.

As the Americans languish in Iranian prisons, the families of the hostages at home continue to suffer – continue to try to move on with life – even though key members of their families are missing.

For Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of Pastor Saeed, June 30 represents much more than the self-imposed deadline to reach a nuclear deal. Eleven years ago, on June 30, Pastor Saeed and Naghmeh were married.

In a letter to her husband, Naghmeh expressed her love and assured Pastor Saeed he is not forgotten:

“The Bible says to remember those in prison as if we are in prison with them and to feel your pain as if in our own bodies (Hebrews 13:3).  For 1,007 days I have remembered you in prayer and felt your pain. For 1,007 days I have been in prison with you as your wife and soul mate. Each night I have struggled with anxiety and a sense of urgency that we need to get you out. Each night that I have laid my head on our bed, I have hugged your empty spot and have wept myself to sleep. Each morning I have woken up with an excruciating pain to my new reality without you. I have prayed. Oh how I have prayed.”

It is impossible to comprehend what Naghmeh and her two children have gone through for nearly three years now, since Pastor Saeed was arrested and imprisoned because of his Christian faith.

It has to be unbearable: The pain, the suffering, the emptiness without Pastor Saeed. But even during these challenging times, there has been a bright spot in all of this. There has been tremendous support worldwide for Pastor Saeed. More than one million people demanding his freedom. More than one million people praying for the Abedinis – praying that this nightmare ends.

As Naghmeh tells her husband in a love letter marking their eleventh wedding anniversary:

“Saeed, your wife wants you to know that you are NOT forgotten. You are covered in prayer. Your wife and the body of Christ are standing with you. We are giving you what prison walls cannot take away. We are giving you our prayers.”

On this11th wedding anniversary for the Abedinis, the political realities take hold. Even though the June 30 deadline has come and gone, negotiations are continuing – the deadline has been extended another week – and if any deal is reached in the days ahead – there is likely to be even more dialogue to finalize any such agreement.

And, don’t forget any deal agreed to by the United States must be approved by Congress.

So, now even with an extended deadline in place to reach a nuclear deal, there is still time to secure the freedom of Pastor Saeed and the other Americans.

It’s still our hope that President Obama and Secretary Kerry will do more than “continue to push hard on” securing the release of the American hostages.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif says Tehran wants a “just” deal. The U.S. must demand a “just” deal from Iran, too – one that includes the release of our U.S. citizens.