Clutching flowers, American mothers visit detained US hikers in Iran
Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal were briefly let out of Evin prison to visit their mothers in a Tehran hotel. The mothers want to bring their children home, but Iran may be waiting for a prisoner swap with the US.
Three Americans accused of spying in Iran were temporarily let out of Evin prison to meet their mothers at a Tehran hotel on Thursday. The mothers called on Iranian authorities to free their adult children, who have been held since July 2009 for crossing illegally from northern Iraq into Iran.
Clutching flowers and wearing conservative Islamic dress, the mothers hugged the three in a tearful reunion broadcast by Iranian state media. Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal say they accidentally strayed across the border while hiking.
â€śPlease, please let them go,â€ť Mr. Bauerâ€™s mother Cindy Hickey said after the two hour meeting. â€śIt would be a good gesture for the world to see Iran doing a humanitarian act.â€ť
The mothers hoped to bring their children home, but were uncertain if Iranian allegations of spying would be dropped. â€śWe have requested their freedom but I donâ€™t know what will happen,â€ť Mrs. Hickey said at a press conference, in which all six appeared before microphones and cameras.
Mothers, prisoners praise good treatment
Ms. Shourd said it was â€śdifficultâ€ť to be alone so much of the time, while her two male friends were able to be together. It was â€śterrible to be away from our families for this long,â€ť she said. â€śWeâ€™ve only received one phone call and that was five minutes long and that was amazing â€“ we waited and prayed for that every day. This [meeting] is something obviously weâ€™ve been praying for and it makes a huge difference.â€ť
â€śShane and Josh are in a room together but Iâ€™m alone and thatâ€™s the most difficult thing for me,â€ť said Shourd, who is able to see the other two twice a day.
Bauer said he had â€śgood relations with the guards. We have good books to read.â€ť Mr. Fattal said he was â€śvery happy to see my mom again.â€ť
â€śWe will tell everyone about our reception here, and we already have been treated so beautifully, and we will tell everyone about this reception, absolutely,â€ť said Laura Fattal, in comments broadcast on PressTV.
The mothers were â€śvery grateful to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the authorities for granting us our visas,â€ť added Hickey. â€śWe know that this is a great humanitarian act that they have given to us. Our reception was wonderful when we came into Iran.â€ť
The meeting was brokered by the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which handles US interests in the Islamic Republic, with which Washington broke ties after the seizure of the US Embassy in November 1979, soon after the Islamic revolution.
No indication of an imminent release
Iranian officials have given no indication that the three detainees will be released.
On Wednesday, Iranâ€™s Minister of Interior Heydar Moslehi said the mothers were granted week-long visas because Iran â€śacted in accordance with Islamic teachings and in a humanitarian way.â€ť But he also renewed espionage charges, saying on Wednesday the three were â€śspiesâ€ť who had entered Iran â€śillegally.â€ť
In recent months, Iranian officials have said they have â€ścompelling evidenceâ€ť that the three Americans were â€ścooperating with intelligence servicesâ€ť â€“ accusations denied by the families and the US government.
An Iranian lawyer representing the Americans said â€śanything is possibleâ€ť to resolve the issue. â€śIt doesnâ€™t have the feel of a normal court case,â€ť Masoud Shafii said, according to the Associated Press.
Speculation Iran seeks prisoner swap
During the press conference, the American detainees said they have not been formally charged. Iranian officials â€“ including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad â€“ have repeatedly linked the three Americans to the fate of 11 Iranian nationals that they say are â€śillegallyâ€ť held in the US.
Iranâ€™s state-run English-language PressTV reported Iranâ€™s intelligence chief saying on Wednesday that â€śunlike the Iranians in American custody, the three detained Americans are being treated well and humanely.â€ť
The frequent linkage has led to speculation that Iran is pursuing an exchange, not unlike one that Iran requested for young French woman Clotilde Reiss, who was teaching French in Isfahan and then arrested on spying charges during post-election protests last summer.
France suspected of recent prisoner exchange deal
Last December, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner ruled out a â€śswapâ€ť of Ms. Reiss for Ali Vakili Rad, an Iranian agent who murdered Iranâ€™s former prime minister, Shahpour Bakhtiar, in Paris in 1991.
â€śWhat does he want?â€ť Mr. Kouchner was reported as saying five months ago. â€śHe wants to make us swap Clotilde Reiss for Vakili Rad, thatâ€™s to say the assassin of Shahpour Bakhtiar. Itâ€™s out of the question.â€ť
Yet in recent weeks, a series of events has prompted widespread speculation that Iran did strike a deal with France â€“ which has been one of the loudest proponents of new UN sanctions against Iran. France has made similar deals in the past for the freedom of French citizens. Shortly after Ms. Reiss was freed, France released Mr. Rad.
On May 7, a French court denied a US extradition request for Iranian engineer Majid Kakavand, on charges of smuggling sensitive American dual-use electronics to Iran through Malaysia. The move was greeted with triumph in Tehran.
Nine days later Reiss was set free in Tehran and allowed to go home. Though she and the French government deny any deal was struck, a former French intelligence agent claimed that Reiss had, in fact, been a useful â€śinformantâ€ť in contact with French intelligence in Tehran, and â€śwrote reports on the atmosphere and in the area of arms proliferation.â€ť
Reiss this week â€ścategoricallyâ€ť denied the â€śliesâ€ť of former French intelligence members, in a statement to Agence France-Presse. She said: â€śIâ€™m shocked to discover such a climate of suspicion in my own country, when thatâ€™s what I had to live with in Iran.â€ť
Tehran source: Iran believed Reiss was French agent
A source in Tehran close to Iranian intelligence circles stated in communication with the Monitor several months ago that Iran believed Reiss was a French agent, who among other activities had been making deliberate contact with construction workers involved in building Iranâ€™s nuclear enrichment facilities.
Two days after Reiss arrived back in Paris, a French judge effectively ended Radâ€™s life sentence for murder by issuing an expulsion order. State-run TV showed the convicted assassin arriving back in Tehran to a heroâ€™s welcome.
â€śA prisoner exchange deal raises questions about both the autonomy of the French courts and Franceâ€™s commitment to preventing the illicit procurement of sensitive items for Iranâ€™s missile and nuclear programs,â€ť the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said in an analysis yesterday. â€śWhile the unlawful detention of foreign nationals in Iran is cause for concern, this quid pro quo makes more likely the occurrence of further groundless detentionsâ€¦and [Iran] now has a French precedent to follow.â€ť