As Clinton calls on Iran to release US journalist, commentators decry 'farce'

The most unique explanation for the conviction of Roxana Saberi on espionage charges may be an allegory about US, Russian, and Iranian intelligence services hunting for a rabbit.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Monday for Iran to release journalist Roxana Saberi immediately, telling reporters at the State Department that the espionage charges levied against her were "baseless":

She has been subjected to a process that has been non-transparent, unpredictable [and] arbitrary.... We hope that actions will be taken as soon as possible by the authorities in Iran, including the judiciary, to bring about the speedy release of Miss Saberi and her return home.

Earlier Monday, Iran’s Judiciary Chief Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi had called for a quick consideration of Saberi's appeal, after she was convicted Saturday and sentenced to eight years in jail.

His demand came a day after US President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” by the sentence and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intervened, asking the judiciary to ensure the Iranian-American’s full legal rights – as The Christian Science Monitor reported Sunday:

Analysts say the timing of Saberi's arrest in late January and the severity of her sentence – ordered after a closed-door trial that began last Monday – is no coincidence, and may be an effort by right-wing factions in Iran to complicate or disrupt chances of talks between the US and Iran. Or, it may be to improve Iran's negotiating position in any future talks.

While news reports have cautiously explored Iran’s motives for charging Ms. Saberi, a former beauty queen who was studying for her third master’s degree, many Western commentators have been swift to condemn the 'farce,' as a New York Times editorial called it.

An allegory: Iran, the US, and Russia on a rabbit hunt
The most unique explanation – at least in the Western press – may well come from Omid Memarian, a blogger and World Peace Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He offers the following allegory, saying “practically anyone in Iran who has anything to do with politics knows this story”:

Once there was a competition between Iran, the U.S. and Russia's intelligence services. The challenge was; who could find a rabbit in the Amazon in the shortest amount of time. The Russians do their very best and they bring the rabbit back in three days. The Americans use their entire cutting edge satellite technology and they find the rabbit in 2 days. The Iranians come back after 24 hours with a bear. The Americans and the Russians say to Iranians "But that's not a rabbit! Where is the rabbit?" And the Iranians say, "Ask the bear." And the bear says, "I am the rabbit. Believe me, I am the rabbit."

If Saberi were a spy, she would have had to have been a very busy one, points out Matt Negrin – a Boston University senior whose frankness in his blog post "Espionage: Iran's new word for 'we got nothing' " echoes that of the little boy in the Emperor’s New Clothes:

It's difficult to take a country's court system seriously when it convicts defendants in secret trials…. And it really doesn't look professional to accuse the defendant -- a journalist -- of "espionage" without providing a single piece of real evidence.
So if suspected spy Saberi was supposed to lay low, why was she filing dozens of stories each month for news organizations like the BBC, NPR and Fox? … Either Roxana Saberi is a terrible spy, or she's not a spy at all.

Riffing on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks on the ruling, he agreed that he was disappointed – but in Iran’s lack of creativity.

More disappointment over ‘disappointment’
On a more serious note, Michael Ledeen – a contributing editor to the conservative National Review Online – criticized Obama’s expression of "disappointment" as too weak, especially in comparison to the overwhelming US military force used to free Capt. Richard Phillips from the clutch of Somali pirates last week.

Obama’s choice of words, wrote Dr. Ledeen – a former consultant to the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Defense Department – suggested that he expected something better from Iran, which “demonstrates a refusal to see Iran for what it is.” In sharp tones, he chastises Obama’s talk as cheap, and asks what the president is doing to protect Americans.

Obama is committed to the “talking cure” with Iran…. He doesn’t seem to realize that all his sweet talk is very provocative, it plays into the mullahs’ fantasy world in which they are routing us all over the world….
Meanwhile, their agents and proxies are killing Americans from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Iraq and Afghanistan. And Obama does nothing in response, except to make gesture after gesture demonstrating his lack of will to confront those who have been killing Americans for thirty years.

Cautionary note for Iran
While Iran’s hard-liners may seem to have the upper hand now, both at home and abroad, the Times of London issued a cautionary note in an editorial on Monday headlined, “A Travesty of Justice.”

Hardliners who may hope to use this affair to derail a US-Iranian entente should recall the fate of those who swam against history in Moscow in 1989. They were swiftly forgotten.
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