Administration OKs bill shaming Iran on rights

The Obama administration has green-lighted a House resolution shaming Iran for its human rights record even as it pursues diplomatic negotiations over the country's nuclear program, The Hill has learned.

Lawmakers have “received an OK from State to move forward” on a resolution calling for the release of imprisoned Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini and “condemning the government of Iran for its persecution of religious minorities,” according to a House staffer. The House Foreign Affairs panel on the Middle East passed the resolution by voice vote on Wednesday and sent it to the full committee; Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Thursday he expects to bring up the Senate version shortly.

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The administration's acquiescence indicates the White House isn't backing off criticism of Iran, even as it responds to President Hassan Rouhani's diplomatic overtures. Vice President Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry urged senators on Wednesday to delay new sanctions, with Kerry saying it would show “bad faith” that could derail talks.

Abedini was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison in January on charges of undermining the government. The charges appear linked to evangelical activities his church conducted a decade ago.

The resolution's sponsor, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), said he hopes it will bring attention to Iran's abysmal human rights record at a time when U.S. negotiators are focused exclusively on the country's nuclear program. The resolution calls on the administration to designate more Iranian officials as human rights abusers banned from traveling to the United States or holding assets there.

“If you were incarcerated, and your family had no way of communicating with you, for no other reason that you're an American on some trumped up charge, would you want the federal government to be negotiating on other issues and ignoring your plight?” Cassidy told The Hill. “Of course not.”

He said the administration is “leaving a fallen behind.”

“I think we should continue to elevate this, not only for that individual but for the principle of religious freedom.”

A State Department official said the department did not take a stance on the resolution. He said the administration has repeatedly called for Abedini's release, notably during Obama's call to Rouhani in September and in exchanges between Kerry and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

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