Idaho Sen. Jim Risch today told the U.S. State Department’s Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman that the United States should cut off all funds to Iran until Idaho Pastor Saeed Abedini and two other Americans who are imprisoned in Iran are released. Abedini, of Boise, has been imprisoned in Iran since 2012 on charges related to Christian evangelizing. Risch said he’s sure the move would work.
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today on the topic “Iran: Status of the P-5+1,” Risch told Sherman, “I have urged that you do something about getting Pastor Abedini and the other two Americans released. As you know, I was incredibly critical of you guys because you cut billions loose without demanding this tiny, tiny little thing as far as Iran is concerned. I wanna ratchet that up again – you did it again.”
“You’ve cut billions loose without getting those guys released,” Risch said. “Do me a favor, do America a favor, do the Abedini family a favor, and tell ‘em next time you’re not going to give ‘em any more money unless they cut these three people loose. I can almost guarantee you they’re gonna do that. You’re talking about billions of dollars and you’re talking about three people that we really, really need out of prisons in Iran. Try it, just try it and see what happens. I’m willing to betcha they’re going to cut those three loose in return for the money that you have available to give ‘em.”
P-5+1 is a group of six world powers, consisting of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, that have been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program since 2006. Risch has posted the exchange on YouTube here.
Nels Mitchell, Risch’s Democratic challenger, had this response to Risch’s comments:
“We all care deeply about securing the freedom of our loved ones who are being unjustly held prison by the Iranian government. My sympathies are with Pastor Saeed Abedini and his family. I sincerely hope that the United States is doing everything possible to obtain the release of Pastor Abedini and the others who are wrongly imprisoned. That said, I am concerned to see Sen. Risch using his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to berate a State Department officer. I doubt that kind of grandstanding advances the mission. I am also concerned that Sen. Risch may not have all of his facts right. I am not aware that the United States is giving away billions of dollars to Iran, which is what Risch seems to be saying in his remarks.”