In a disturbing turn of events, the White House has warned that it will veto a proposed amendment that would demand release of Pastor Saeed Abedini and three other American citizens held prisoners in Iran before any final nuclear deal agreement is reached.
The American Center for Law and Justice called the Obama administration's admittance "despicable" and "appalling."
"That is simply unbelievable. Refusing to discuss the Americans being held hostage by Iran at the bargaining table and rejecting any congressional attempt to make any deal with Iran contingent on the release of the Americans is unacceptable. It's quite frankly appalling," the law group wrote in an update on Thursday.
"This is despicable. This is outrageous. And it is an insult to the captive Americans and their families," it added.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made the announcement on Wednesday after an ABC News reporter asked about the Corker Bill and amendments being debated by the U.S. Senate that would require Iran to release the captured U.S. citizens before any sanctions are lifted.
"The President would certainly veto any amendment or any bill with an amendment that undermined the unanimous compromise that was reached in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or that interfered with the ongoing negotiations," Earnest said, KTVB reports.
"Certainly a provision, an amendment, that made this nuclear deal contingent on Iran's release of those three American citizens would fall, I think frankly, into both categories."
In April, the U.S., alongside Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, negotiated an agreement with Iran promising to lift international sanctions in a gradual manner in exchange for restricting its nuclear program. According to the ACLJ, the negotiations, which have not yet been finalized, are a crucial opportunity for Obama to press Iran for the release of the Americans.
Pastor Saeed, who is serving an eight year prison sentence for "threatening the security of the state," was first arrested in 2009 while working as a Christian leader and community organizer in Iran's underground home church communities for Christian converts who are denied the right to worship freely in public churches. Although he was initially released after pledging to stop formally organizing house churches in Iran, he was imprisoned again after returning to Iran in 2012 to help build a state-run, secular orphanage.
The ACLJ notes that Pastor Saeed remains in an incredibly dangerous situation due to the frequent executions, inmate violence and beatings that take place in Iranian prisons. The pastor has suffered long stints in solitary confinement, and beatings and torture at the hands of his jailers and fellow inmates. He was also denied medical attention for his injuries
In the past, President Obama has insisted pastor Saeed's freedom remains a "top priority" for his administration, even taking time to address the case at the National Day of Prayer Breakfast in February.
"I was recently in Boise, Idaho and had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Abedini's beautiful wife and wonderful children and to convey to them that our country has not forgotten brother Saeed and that we're doing everything we can to bring him home," he said at the time.
After the meeting, Naghmeh Abedini, the pastor's wife, said she was left with a "renewed sense of hope."
However, in light of the latest developments, the ACLJ laments that President Obama's promises cannot be trusted.
"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," ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow wrote last week.