Their families say the three were innocent travelers on a hike who accidentally crossed the border. Iranian officials have suggested the trio – picked up as serious post-election unrest shook the Islamic Republic – were spying and will face trial.
Iranian officials say the visas were approved as a “humanitarian act,” and the decision comes as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and senior government officials are engaged in a diplomatic charm offensive of UN Security Council members to avert a fourth round of UN sanctions over their nuclear program.
“We’re really over-the-top excited about this,” said Nora Shourd, the mother of Sarah Shourd, who was arrested and been held at Evin prison in Tehran along with Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer. “I can barely breathe this morning,” Mrs. Shourd told the Associated Press. “We’ve waited for this for so long. And it’s going to be wonderful to see these kids, absolutely wonderful.”
Swiss diplomats: Shourd, Bauer unwell
Swiss diplomats that represent American interests in Tehran last visited the three on April 22, and apparently reported that both Ms. Shourd and Mr. Bauer had medical conditions.
Negative coverage in the US media last week focused on Ahmadinejad's declaration that the US is “nuclear criminal” at the start of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in New York.
But there have also been more positive signals in recent weeks from Ahmadinejad and other officials about the possibility of resurrecting a nuclear fuel swap deal, and even breaking down some of the 31-year-old mutual Iran-US hostility.
“Here they hope the US would take actions more seriously than words,” said an political analyst in Tehran who asked not to be identified.
Mothers to travel next week
The families plan to travel to Tehran early next week. The mothers are to meet an Iranian lawyer dealing with the case and have requested meetings with Iranian officials. The detainees are all graduates of the University of California at Berkeley. Bauer and Shourd had been living in Syria, he as a freelance journalist and she as an English teacher. Mr. Fattal joined them after a teaching fellowship.
In February, Ahmadinejad suggested that the American trio could be exchanged for Iranian citizens who Iran says are illegally being held in the US. Iran’s Intelligence Minister Haidar Moslehi said last month that the three Americans had links to intelligence services.
The US State Department has denied any intelligence link and kept up pressure for the trios release. Last week the US deputy ambassador to the UN handed Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki letters from their families for them.
“When I walk in to see Shane, the first thing I want to instill is we love him and the family is doing absolutely everything we can to secure his release and that won’t stop until he’s home,” Cindy Hickey told the AP.