President Barack Obama met face-to-face with Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been detained inside the brutal Iranian prison system since 2012, and her two children on Wednesday, affirming his commitment to bringing the pastor home safely.
Abedini told TheBlaze that the meeting left her both hopeful and encouraged, feeling as though her family’s plight was made more real and tangible in the eyes of the president and his administration.
“I feel like there was a heart connection. As much as I needed to see him to make it more personal, I think it had the effect where he saw us and we weren’t just a news story,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday night. “We are a family torn apart. I could see compassion in his eyes.”
Obama, who spoke with the family during a trip to Boise, Idaho, told Abedini during the closed-door, 10-minute meeting that securing her husband’s release is “a top priority” and that he will do everything possible to bring Saeed home.
Obama met Abedini and her two children Rebecca, 8, and Jacob, 6, at Boise State University before he delivered a speech about education. Perhaps the most touching moment came when Jacob, who turns seven on March 17, asked if Obama would bring his father home before his birthday — a moment that Abedini said was intensely “emotional.”
“President Obama said, ‘When is your birthday?’” she told TheBlaze. “And then there was a look of shock [when Jacob responded] and he kind of stepped back and he said, ‘I don’t know if I can do it that quick’ and he said, ‘I will try.’”
Abedini added, “I could see in his eyes that he’s a dad and for him to see that that’s what Jacob wants — it was a really emotional moment.”
In addition to voicing his commitment to bringing Saeed home, Obama told Abedini that her husband was a topic of conversation in a phone conversation he had with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Abedini told TheBlaze before the meeting Wednesday that she had spent three days fasting and praying in hopes that Obama would meet with her. When she shared those details with the president, she said he smiled in return.
“[I told him] this meeting was setup by God and he smiled and he nodded,” she said.
In the end, Abedini said that the sit-down was “really good” and explained some of the follow-up ideas that Obama mentioned. Among them, he urged her to meet with Rabbi David Saperstein, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom with the State Department — an offer she plans to take him up on.
While she is encouraged and hopeful, Abedini said that she’s still cautious in her expectations and plans to keep petitioning the government to take action on her husband’s behalf.
“It’s definitely encouraged me more and made me more hopeful and at the same time I’m still [thinking] ‘Let’s see what happens,’” she said. “The skeptic in me is also watching to see where are they going to go after this meeting. How much of a priority … how soon can they get him home?”
Saeed Abedini was first arrested in 2012 on charges stemming from meetings he had with other Christians inside private homes — an act that is not illegal in Iran.