Iran will allow the mothers of three Americans arrested along the Iraqi border in July to visit them in a Tehran prison, the foreign minister has announced, saying the decision was made on humanitarian grounds.
It was the first positive signal from Iran in a case that has exacerbated tensions between the two countries that were already high due to the standoff over Iran’s accelerating nuclear programme and criticism of its crackdown on postelection protesters.
During their nine months in jail, Iran has accused the Americans of espionage but has not brought them to trial or even made clear if formal charges have been filed.
In February, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed swapping them for Iranians he says are jailed in the US, raising fears that the three are being held as bargaining chips.
Adding to concerns, Swiss diplomats who were allowed to visit the Americans on April 22 reported that two of them were in poor health, according to their families.
Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said on state television late yesterday that the Iranian government has ordered visas for the prisoners’ mothers to be issued on humanitarian grounds.
Iran has accused Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal of illegal border crossing, spying and having links to US intelligence, and has said they would be brought to trial.
Their families and the US government have denied the spying accusations and called for their release.
The families of the three graduates of the University of California at Berkeley say they were hiking in the scenic Kurdistan region of northern Iraq and that if they did cross the border with Iran they did so unintentionally.
Mr. Mottaki said Iran made a decision to grant visas to the mothers before Mr. Ahmadinejad attended a conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in New York this month.
The mothers flew to New York in hopes of meeting Mr. Ahmadinejad to make a personal appeal for their children’s release, but their request to see him wasn’t granted.
“Before the New York meeting, we decided on humanitarian grounds that these three mothers can visit their children,” Mr. Mottaki said on a live television show. “We gave orders to our mission in the US (to issue the visas). They can refer to our mission, get it (visas) and come.”
He did not clarify where the visas would be issued, but it could be at Iran’s UN mission in New York. The Pakistani Embassy in Washington also represents Iranian diplomatic interests in the US in the absence of an official relationship between the two countries.
Keywords: A gesture,