President Barack Obama's administration has warned that it will veto a proposed amendment that would require the 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, which represents Abedini's family, called the admittance "despicable" and "outrageous."
"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.
The response is aimed at comments made by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest to an ABC News reporter asking about the Corker Bill and amendments being debated by the U.S. Senate that would require Iran to release the imprisoned Americans 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.
"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."
The U.S., Iran, and several other Western nations reached a historic deal at the beginning of April, which is yet to be finalized, but promises to lift international sanctions on Iran in exchange for restricting its nuclear program.
The ACLJ has seen the negotiations as a vital opportunity for Obama to press Iran for the release of the Americans. The law group, which represents Abedini's wife and two children in the U.S., has said that the pastor has been imprisoned for over two years and a half because of his Christian faith.
Obama has spoken out on a number of occasions for Abedini's release, and visited with the pastor's family in Boise, Idaho, earlier this year to tell them that the pastor's freedom remains a "top priority" for his administration.
Naghmeh Abedini, the pastor's wife, has said: "Our government must not forget that Saeed is not being held by the reformists with whom they negotiate but by radical hardliners who oppose what he represents – a Christian convert and an U.S. citizen"
She added: "We cannot leave my husband's fate in the hands of these radicals. I implore our government to remember the urgency of bringing Saeed home to our family."
The ACLJ has argued, however, that the evidence suggests 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.
Over 190,000 people have signed an online petition started by the law group insisting that there should be no nuclear deal with Iran unless Abedini is freed.