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Moms leave Iran, but jailed Americans not freed
Written by NASSER KARIMI,Associated Press Writer   
Friday, 21 May 2010 15:13

 

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The mothers of three Americans jailed in Iran for 10 months left Iran on Friday without securing an immediate release for their children.

The mothers had more time with their children on Friday after an emotional reunion a day earlier in a Tehran hotel overlooking Evin prison, where the three have been held since their arrest in July along the Iran-Iraq border.

The mothers "were willing to stay longer" to meet with Iranian officials to appeal for the three's release, but "the conditions were not right," the Americans' lawyer, Masoud Shafii told The Associated Press. They were on a flight to Dubai that left Tehran on Friday evening, according to an AP photographer also on board. The mothers would not comment on their three-day visit to Iran.

Iran has accused Sarah Shourd, 31, Shane Bauer, 27, and Josh Fattal, 27, of espionage and entering the country illegally. Their families say the three were simply hiking in Iraq's largely peaceful mountainous northern Kurdish region.

The mothers had said they hoped their children would be allowed to return with them — or at least that they would be allowed to make an appeal for their freedom directly to Iranian leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

But so far, Iranian authorities have given no indication that the three could be freed, and the mothers are not known to have met any high-level officials.

One glimmer of hope came as state TV reported that the American military in Iraq has released two Iranians detained for entering Iraq without a passport. The two — Ahmad Barazandeh and Ali Abdolmaleki — have been held for seven and two years, respectively, Iran's ambassador to Baghdad was quoted by the report as saying. Iraqi and U.S. officials in Baghdad could not immediately confirm the report.

The Iranians' release "may have some diplomatic effect on this case," Shafii said.

The TV report made no connection between the release and the case of the three Americans. But Iran has hinted in the past that it wants to swap the three Americans for Iranians being held by the United States.

On Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington, "We're not contemplating any kind of a prisoner swap" for the three Americans.

"But if Iran has questions about any of its citizens and whether we have any information as to their whereabouts, we would be more than happy to receive that diplomatic note and respond to it," he said.

There have been hints of such swaps in a past case. In 2009, U.S. forces in Iraq freed five Iranians who had been detained since 2007 on suspicion of aiding Shiite militants, and their release came several months after Iran freed an Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, who had been arrested in early 2009 and accused of espionage.

In another possible swap, Iran this month freed a 24-year-old French academic, Clotilde Reiss, arrested 10 months ago in connection to Iran's crackdown on postelection protests. Just before her release, Paris allowed an Iranian detained in France on a U.S. warrant over suspicions of buying technology for Iran's military to return to his homeland. And soon after Reiss' release, France also freed an Iranian imprisoned for the 1991 assassination of a former Iranian prime minister.

Iran says Shourd, Bauer and Fattal were arrested after entering Iran illegally last July. Their relatives say the three were simply hiking in Iraq's scenic and largely peaceful mountainous northern Kurdish region and that if they did cross the border it was accidental.

The three were brought Friday afternoon to the Estaghlal hotel and taken to the rooms where their mothers are staying for a private meeting, the witnesses at the hotel said. No cameras or media were allowed to cover the meeting, unlike an emotional reunion the day before at the hotel — their first since the arrests — when the three young Americans and their mothers embraced and sat together for nearly four hours.

Afterward, the mothers headed for the airport, and their children were taken back to Evin.

 

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