Cruz to Obama: Don't meet with Rouhani until Iran releases 'prisoners of conscience'
WASHINGTON (CNN) — That didn't take long.
Just a day after President Barack Obama answered a phone call from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani -- the first contact between a U.S. president and an Iranian leader since Jimmy Carter spoke by phone with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979 -- Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, says Iran needs to meet two preconditions, or the leader of the free world should send Rouhani's next call to voice mail.
Cruz announced Saturday he has filed a resolution in the Senate recommending Iran must recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state and Iran must release, without conditions, all U.S. nationals being "unjustly" held "before any future meeting between President Obama and President Rouhani."
"Congress needs to send a strong signal that direct communication with the leader of the free world is a privilege," Cruz said, "particularly for a regime that has been as hostile as Iran has been towards America for more than three decades."
In the resolution, Cruz both decried Iran as a "committed state-sponsor of terrorist groups" and dismissed the country's claims it is only seeking nuclear power for peaceful purposes. The Texas Republican said Rouhani and his government have yet to take "any practical steps" towards halting its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Discussing the phone call in a statement from the White House briefing room on Friday, Obama promised that he will continue to consult the United States' "friends and allies in the region, including Israel," acknowledging that ongoing talks with Iran would inflame suspicions among Israeli leaders.
Obama and Rouhani also discussed the imprisonment of American pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. official said. The Idaho pastor, who converted from Islam to Christianity 13 years ago, has been imprisoned in Tehran's Evin prison for more than a year. Abedini is serving an eight-year sentence for "undermining the Iranian government."
Cruz praised the president for raising Abedini's imprisonment with Rouhani before imploring Obama to keep up a diplomatic blitz to force "real action on this issue."
Ahead of Rouhani's visit to the United Nations this past week, Iranian authorities reportedly pardoned 80 prisoners, according to Iranian media. This comes after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he would be willing to lend the country's president greater "flexibility" on the foreign relations front, signaling a potential -- if subtle -- shift in the nation's fraught dealings with the U.S. and the West.