ISTANBUL, Turkey, (BP) -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Monday (Sept. 30) declined to meet with the wife of imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini during his trip to the United Nations, days after the Christian's wife learned her husband had recently been tortured.
Rouhani instead said in a television interview that releasing Iranian criminals held in U.S. prisons would change the "atmosphere and environment," hinting that such a change would be necessary for possibly freeing prisoners such as Abedini. The Iranians in question were sentenced to prison for violating the international trade embargo placed on Iran for trying to develop nuclear weapons, Rouhani said.
"There are a number of Iranians in the United States who are imprisoned, who went to prison as a result of activities related to the nuclear industry in Iran. Once these sanctions have been lifted, why keep those folks in American prisons? So they must be freed," he said Sept. 27 on CNN through an interpreter. "If the Americans take the appropriate actions vis-a-vis Iranian citizens who are being imprisoned here, then the right atmosphere and environment will be created for reciprocal action perhaps."
Rouhani left New York Monday afternoon (Sept. 28) without responding to a request by Abedini's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, for a meeting. She and lawyer Tiffany Barrans, international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), will remain in New York in hopes of meeting with Gholam Ali Khoshroo, the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations.
"President Rouhani's demand that America release 19 criminals in exchange for his consideration of releasing individuals like my husband, imprisoned solely for his faith, demonstrates that the Iran of today is no different than the Iran who took Americans hostages during the Iranian revolution," she said in a press statement. "The environment is ripe for Iran to demonstrate it is ready to re-enter the global market and international scene of diplomats; it is time to show its good will, to change its image from one of a pariah to a member of the global society who will protect fundamental rights."