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New International Efforts to Free US Hikers Bauer and Fattal

16 Sep 2011 02:25Comments

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Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

BauerFattalDiptych.jpg2:25 a.m., 25 Shahrivar/September 16 International efforts to facilitate the release of American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal from imprisonment in Iran are multiplying. A private plane from Oman, which played a pivotal role last year in the release of a third American hiker, Sarah Shourd, was dispatched Wednesday to Tehran. And Thursday, an Iraqi envoy was quoted as saying that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had negotiated Bauer and Fattal's release to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in the Islamic Republic.

The efforts to bring the two men back to the United States received a significant impetus on Tuesday, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a reporter for the Washington Post that he would grant them a "unilateral pardon." Asked when they would be released, he responded, "I hope it will happen in a couple of days." After their lawyer, Masoud Shafiei, revealed that the terms of the release would be similar to Shourd's, involving "bail" of $500,000 for each man, the judiciary released a statement declaring that the pardon/bail process was being vetted and that the outcome was not yet certain.

The Associated Press reports,

The Gulf state of Oman dispatched a private plane to Iran Wednesday amid efforts toward a bail-for-freedom deal for two Americans jailed for spying -- in a possible replay of the diplomatic exchange that freed a third member of the group last year. [...]

The Omani intervention suggested movement on the complicated judicial and diplomatic dealings over the total $1 million bail, which was thrown into doubt earlier Wednesday when Iran's judiciary said the deal still needed review.

The statement by the hard-line judiciary appeared to be a message that only its officials can set the timetables and conditions on any possible release and not the president, who is locked in a power struggle with Iran's ruling clerics who control the courts.

It also could be a swipe at President Ahmadinejad's hopes of timing the release of of the two men with his expected arrival in New York next week for the U.N. General Assembly.

According to Reuters,

Two U.S. citizens convicted of spying in Iran will be freed soon after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani negotiated their release with Iranian officials, an Iranian daily quoted an Iraqi envoy to Tehran as saying.

Shane Bauer, 28, and Josh Fattal, 29, were arrested on the border with Iraq in 2009 where they said they were hiking. They were found guilty of illegal entry and espionage and were sentenced last month to eight years in prison. [...]

"The Iraqi president contacted top Iranian officials after the pair's families asked for his mediation ... They will be handed over to the Swiss embassy in Tehran early next week," the Thursday edition of Sharq daily quoted Nazem Dabbagh as saying. [...]

Washington has denied they were spies and on Tuesday U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was encouraged by Ahmadinejad's remarks.

For CNN, Professor Jamsheed K. Choksy analyzes the struggle within the Iranian regime and how it relates to this week's mixed messages over the hikers' fate:

[T]he recent twist in the hikers' plight reflects more than an erratic chief executive or a regime in Tehran that lacks coordination. It represents the latest skirmish in an increasingly high-stakes battle for the future of Iran's politics and society.

At the heart of the tussle between Ahmadinejad and his former clerical mentors is the question of whether the Islamic republic and its system of velayat-e faqih, or governance by an Islamic jurist, should endure or be discarded as a disastrous experiment just as a previous attempt by clergymen to rule Iran failed during the Persian Empire of antiquity.

Regarding those hikers, the Iranian government's executive branch, including its Foreign Ministry, lobbied publicly for dropping the charges. Ahmadinejad and his appointees, like many other Iranians, see little to gain from continued imprisonment of the two Americans. The presidential office has more pressing matters -- such as a deteriorating economy -- that demand attention. [...]

Not surprisingly the mullahs have begun denouncing Ahmadinejad and his appointees as a "deviant current" that seeks to "restrict the powers of the supreme leader, increase the authority of the elected president, base authority within the executive and parliamentary branches of government, use public referendums rather than clerical edicts, and change the Islamic Constitution ... in order to dismantle clerical rule."

For details on the latest in this internecine political conflict, see Tehran Bureau's most recent roundup of news from the Iranian media, compiled by our columnist Muhammad Sahimi, here.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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