Evangelist Billy Graham has penned a letter to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, urging him to release an American pastor who was imprisoned in September 2012.
Graham said in his letter that Saeed Abedini was working to build an orphanage in Iran when he was arrested and later sentenced to eight years in prison.
"As a religious leader, I have often spoken about the need for greater understanding and peace among nations of the world," Graham wrote. "I fear, however, that the current publicity surrounding the continued imprisonment of Pastor Abedini, an American citizen, may further harm the already fragile relationship that exists between our two nations."
Iran said Monday it had freed 80 prisoners arrested in political crackdowns, offering another potential diplomatic boost for the country's new president and his outreach to the West at this week's United Nations gathering.
Graham called the Monday announcement "encouraging," but said he was concerned about the relationship between the United States and Iran because of the publicity Abedini's case has received.
Published as an ad Thursday in The New York Times, Graham's letter coincides with numerous prayer vigils planned for Thursday in more than 70 American cities.
"I join them by respectfully asking you to release Pastor Abedini from prison," Graham wrote. "Such an action would, I believe, have a positive impact in our nation, and might well be perceived by our leadership as a significant step in reducing tensions."