Lawyer says 3 Americans jailed in Iran and their mothers will meet again today

By Nasser Karimi, AP
Friday, May 21, 2010

Moms to meet 3 Americans held in Iran again today

TEHRAN, Iran — Three Americans jailed in Iran for 10 months will be reunited with their mothers again on Friday, according to a lawyer representing the trio — the second such meeting arranged by Iranian authorities.

The mothers of the three Americans are on a visit to Iran in hopes of securing the release of their children — Sarah Shourd, 31; her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27; and their friend Josh Fattal, 27. On Thursday, they had an emotional reunion, sitting together for four hours in a Tehran hotel.

Iran has accused the trio of spying and entering Iran illegally after being detained on the porous border with Iraq last July. Their relatives say the three were simply hiking in Iraq’s scenic and largely peaceful mountainous northern Kurdish region.

Their detention has become intertwined with Iran’s accusations that the United States is unfairly holding a number of Iranians in custody. Iranian authorities have hinted in the past that they want a swap to release the three Americans.

To underscore the connection, the American mothers on Friday were taken to meet the mothers of five Iranian diplomats who were arrested in 2007 by U.S. troops in Iraq on suspicion of aiding Shiite militants and were held until 2009.

In the meeting, aired in part on state TV, the Iranian women pointedly said American officials never gave them the chance to see their loved ones while they were held in Iraq. The women also claimed their sons were mistreated in U.S. custody.

Since the arrest of the three Americans, Iran has been demanding the release of a number of Iranians who it claims were kidnapped by the U.S. Among them are several who have been tried and sentenced in the United States for trying to arrange illegal sales to Iran. Also among them is a nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, who disappeared during a visit last year to Saudi Arabia, raising speculation he defected to the West.

On Friday, Iranian state TV reported that U.S forces in Iraq freed two Iranian nationals detained for entering Iraq without a passport.

The report quoted Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad, Hasan Kazemi Qomi, as saying the two — Ahmad Barazandeh and Ali Abdolmaleki — have been held for seven and two years, respectively. Iraqi and U.S. officials in Baghdad could not immediately confirm the report.

The TV report made no connection between the release and the case of the three Americans.

But there may have been past swaps. The Iranian diplomats held in Iraq were freed several months after Iran released an Iranian-American journalist, Rozana Saberi, who had been arrested in early 2009 and accused of espionage.

The attorney of the three detained Americans, Masoud Shafii, told The Associated Press that they would meet again with their mothers sometime after 4 p.m. on Friday.

Their first reunion on Thursday took place in the high-rise Esteghlal Hotel in north Tehran, which overlooks the Evin Prison where the trio have been held. The meeting, with embraces and an abundant lunch featuring traditional Mideast dishes, received extensive coverage on Iran’s state-run Press TV, the government’s main English-language broadcast arm. Reporters for the foreign media also were allowed their first glimpse of the three Americans.

Afterward, the trio were taken back to Evin prison, Shafii said.

The decision to give a highly scripted public face to the private family moments suggests the trip by Nora Shourd, Cindy Hickey and Laura Fattal could be drawn deeper into Iran’s brinksmanship with the West over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program and a U.S.-led push for harsher sanctions.

Shafii predicted it was “very unlikely” that the jailed Americans would be allowed to return home with their mothers because the case has not yet reached the courts. But he said in an interview with AP Television News that decisions could be made outside the normal legal framework and that “anything can happen.”

Iran granted the women visas to visit their children in what it called an “Islamic humanitarian gesture” and the Americans appealed to them to release the three on the same grounds.

“We hope we’re going home soon, maybe with our mothers,” Josh Fattal said as the group was interviewed while seated together on a low-slung couch.

The three prisoners appeared healthy, wearing jeans and polo-style shirts. Sarah Shourd wore a maroon-colored head scarf. They described their routines behind bars and the small things that take on major significance: being allowed books, letters from home, the ability for some exercise and the one hour each day they are all together. The last direct contact with their families was a five-minute phone call in March.

Shafii said the mothers hope to take their appeal to the highest levels, even hoping for meetings with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters.

Just before the American mothers’ arrival in Tehran, Washington said it had won support from other major powers for a new set of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran over its refusal to stop uranium enrichment.

The U.S., which has not had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and its allies accuse Tehran of seeking atomic weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Hickey lives in Minnesota, Shourd is from Oakland, California, and Fattal is from suburban Philadelphia.

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