[Guest post by DRJ]
The Iranian Ambassador to Iraq says there is no deal to release the American hikers held in Iran for Iranians recently released in Iraq:
“Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi told The Associated Press the fate of the Americans, who have been held since July, is in the hands of the Iranian judiciary and has no connection to the release of two Iranians earlier this month.
“There were no deals,” Qomi said. “They (Americans) are in the custody of the judiciary system.”
The detained Americans—Sarah Shourd, 31; her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27; and their friend Josh Fattal, 27—were arrested along the Iraqi border. Iran has accused them of espionage, but their families say the three were hiking in northern Iraq’s mountainous Kurdish region and if they strayed into Iran, it was unintentional.
In a goodwill gesture by Iran, their mothers were allowed to visit them earlier in May—for the first time since they were taken into Iranian custody.
The visit, along with the release by Baghdad of two Iranians held for years in U.S. and later Iraqi custody, raised the possibility of a behind-the-scenes swap for the Americans’ freedom. The option came into focus especially after Iranian leaders suggested a link between the American trio and a number of Iranians held by the U.S. who Tehran would like to see released.”
I think the 2 Iranians the Ambassador refers to were released 10 days ago, one day after the Americans were visited by their mothers:
“Two Iranians arrested by U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq were released Friday, a day after Iran allowed three young Americans detained in the Islamic Republic since last July to meet with their visiting mothers.
Iraqi officials handed the detainees to Iran’s embassy in Baghdad this morning, and they will leave for Iran as soon as possible, a report on the website of state-owned English-language Press TV said.
The moves are the latest hints of behind-the-scenes deal-making between Iran and the West over the fate of detainees.
Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, told Iranian state radio that U.S. servicemen arrested and jailed Ahmad Barazandeh seven years ago and Ali Abdollahi three years ago “on the basis of groundless accusations” and for traveling without passports.
Kazemi-Qomi described both Iranians as “pilgrims” who had traveled to Iraq to visit Shiite Muslim holy sites. Press TV said the two men were arrested in Najaf and Samarra, both hosts to important Shiite religious sites.
On Thursday, Iranian officials allowed maternal visits for Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd, three Americans arrested last year after allegedly crossing illegally into Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan. They are being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
The three, described by their supporters as innocent hikers but accused by Iranian officials of espionage, are to spend Friday with their mothers as well, said Masoud Shafii, their lawyer.”
CNN has a little bit more on the released Iranians.
Was there an Iranian-U.S. deal (via the Iraqis)? If so, was the deal to release the prisoners in exchange for the mothers’ visit, or did Iran go back on the deal after the Iranians were released?