Freed American plans medical visit in Oman after bail deal cut with Iran

By Adam Schreck, AP
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

American freed by Iran plans medical exam in Oman

MUSCAT, Oman — American Sarah Shourd planned a medical exam Wednesday for the first appraisal of her health after more than 13 months in an Iranian prison, said Omani officials after the country’s rulers mediated a deal for a half million dollar bail to win her release.

Shourd has stayed out of the public eye since arriving late Tuesday aboard a private Omani jet. Her mother — who was waiting at a special royal airfield — says her 32-year-old daughter has serious medical problems, including a breast lump and precancerous cervical cells.

The Omani officials gave no further details of the planned medical attention. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to brief media.

In the United States, a person familiar with Shourd’s case confirmed the plans for a medical exam, but did not elaborate.

Shourd plans after Oman are unclear. But comments by State Departrment spokesman P.J. Crowley suggested she may spend some more time in Muscat before deciding.

“Sarah Shourd … is taking a little bit of time, understandably, just to decompress,” he said in Washington.

Shourd and two other Americans — her fiance Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Fattal — were detained along Iran’s border with Iraq in July 2009 and later accused of spying. The two men remain in a Tehran prison under indictment on espionage-related charges and could face trial — with proceedings for Shourd in absentia.

Their families say they were innocent hikers in the scenic mountains of Iraq’s Kurdish region and if they did stray across the border into Iran, they did so unwittingly.

The status of Shourd’s health has been a centerpiece of the negotiations for her release since last week when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said she should be freed on humanitarian grounds.

She was eventually released Tuesday after Oman — a key ally of both Iran and the West — played intermediary for a bail deal that satisfied Iranian authorities and apparently did not violate U.S. economic sanctions.

The source of the bail payment has not been disclosed.

But Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, was quoted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency say saying amount would arrive in Iran later this week after the holiday period in Oman to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. He gave no other details, but his comments suggested the bail was in currency and not a possible barter deal to bypass U.S. sanctions.

He added that the bail “will be confiscated” if Shourd does not return for possible trial on spy charges, which he said would be soon.

Shourd’s attorney, Masoud Shafiei, told The Associated Press that a “foreign individual paid the bail in Muscat” and insisted it was “neither a government nor an embassy that paid the bail.”

But he said he did not know the identity.

Shourd thanked Oman for its role after arriving aboard a jet from the sultanate.

Oman shares the strategic Strait of Hormuz with Iran at the mouth of the Gulf. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s oil passes through the narrow channel. Next month, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will visit Oman as part of economic development meetings between the two countries.

Oman also maintains close U.S. ties, including arms purchases, and is a regular stop for high-level Pentagon officials.

“I’m grateful and I’m very humbled by this moment,” Shourd said before boarding the plane in Tehran for the two-hour flight to Oman.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he welcomed Shourd’s release and “the flexibility of Iranian government.” But he also called for the release of the “remaining two American hikers so that they could join their families as soon as possible.”

The mothers of Bauer and Fattal told the AP Wednesday that they hope their sons will be released soon, now that Shourd has been freed.

Laura Fattal noted that the United Nations General Assembly meets in New York in the next week.

“We would very much like President Ahmadinejad to bring Josh and Shane with him,” she said. “He has innocent hikers, and I think it would be a wonderful humanitarian move.”

For her part, Cindy Hickey said she “was very excited for Sarah,” noting that Shourd is her future daughter-in-law.

She added that her biggest fear with Shourd’s release was “how difficult it would be for Shane and Josh to part from Sarah. But it did sound like Sarah did get to say goodbye to them so that made me feel a lot better.”

President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton both thanked Oman for its assistance.

Oman “in recent days and weeks became a key interlocutor to help us work this case with the Iranian government,” State Department spokesman Crowley said Tuesday. “And we are very grateful to the role that Oman has played.”

He could not say whether any money had changed hands in winning Shourd’s release, but noted that “arrangements were made that satisfied Iranian requirements under their judicial system.”

At the same time, Crowley said the U.S. government had no information to suggest any U.S. or international sanctions on Iran had been violated. The sanctions were imposed over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Later, in a message posted on Twitter, Crowley challenged Ahmadinejad to bring the two other detained Americans back home when he attends the U.N. General Assembly next week.

Tehran prosecutor Dowlatabadi fired back that Washington is “not serious about supporting its citizens” because the U.S. government would not consider helping pay the bail.

Shourd smiled and looked relaxed during her whirlwind trip from prison to the arms of her mother in Oman in just a few hours. But the full picture of her health has not been made public.

The plans for her release on health grounds touched off days of mixed signals in Iran and exposed deep political rifts between Ahmadinejad’s allies and the powerful judiciary, which demanded the high bail.

Ahmadinejad is scheduled to travel to New York later this month to attend the U.N. General Assembly. Some analysts say Shourd’s release could have been timed to deflect the international outcry over a stoning sentence for a woman convicted of adultery and the continued crackdown on opposition groups — which led two Iranian ambassadors in Europe to quit this week and seek asylum.

Shourd, who grew up in Los Angeles, Bauer, who grew up in Onamia, Minnesota, and Fattal, who grew up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, were detained on July 31, 2009, and accused of illegally crossing into Iran and spying. Convictions could bring sentences of up to 10 years in prison.

Associated Press writers Brian Murphy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee, Matthew Lee in Washington, Karen Matthews in New York and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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