President Obama addressed members of Congress and other leaders at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday. (The Associated Press)

President Obama called on North Korea and Iran to release two Americans held captive since 2012, using an address at the National Prayer Breakfast to demand that foreign nations respect religious freedoms and to declare that the men “deserve to be free.”

Obama said Kenneth Bae, a missionary held in North Korea, and Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor held in Iran, were victims of religious intolerance by foreign governments and that the United States would continue to press for their release.

“Around the world, freedom of religion is under threat,” Obama said, addressing the annual gathering of religious leaders in Washington. “We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faith.”

The president emphasized that religious freedom is a key pillar of U.S. foreign policy, and he named China, Burma, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Sudan and South Sudan as places where his administration has been pressing ruling regimes to respect diversities of faith.

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