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Journalist’s Release Shows Divide Among Iran’s Leaders

Posted by dorian on May 12, 2009

Journalist’s Release Shows Divide Among Iran’s Leaders

By NAZILA FATHI and MARK LANDLER for the New York Times


The Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi spoke to reporters in Tehran on Tuesday, a day after being released from prison.Behrouz Mehri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TEHRAN — The release of an Iranian-American journalist imprisoned on charges of spying for the United States removes an obstacle to President Obama’s opening to Iranbut illustrates the volatility of the Iranian government.

The journalist, Roxana Saberi, had been in jail since January, yet an appeals court on Monday rejected her eight-year sentence, a month after Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wrote a letter urging the court to be fair in its review.

American officials said Iran’s handling of the Saberi case underlined a deepening divide within its leadership about how to respond to President Obama’s recent overtures. It also reflects domestic politics a month before Mr. Ahmadinejad faces a critical election, according to analysts.

“Those who are trying to engage the U.S. won out,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “There wasn’t going to be any major new administration initiative toward Iran without this case resolved.”


The Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, right, hugs her mother, Akiko, after being released from prison in Tehran on Monday.Reuters TV, via Reuters

In her first public remarks since her release, Ms. Saberi told reporters on Tuesday that she was very happy to be free and reunited with her parents. She thanked those who helped win her release.

She said she did not have any immediate, specific plans and wanted to spend time with her family.

“I am very happy that I have been released and reunited with my father and mother,” she said. “I am very grateful to all the people who knew me or didn’t know me and helped for my release.”

Television images showed her wearing a turquoise head scarf and smiling. Reporters who knew her said she looked thinner than before her arrest, possibly as a result of a hunger strike in prison, which she ended after two weeks because of health problems.

Ms. Saberi, 32, who has lived in Iran since 2003 and worked as a freelance reporter for National Public Radio and the BBC, was reunited with her parents and will return to the United States in the coming days, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Washington. She had originally been arrested for buying a bottle of wine, which is illegal in Iran.The charges were later elevated to working without a press credential and espionage.

“We continue to take issue with the charges against her and the verdicts rendered, but we are very heartened that she has been released,” said Mrs. Clinton, who had called for the release.


Reza Saberi and his wife, Akiko, waited outside Evin prison in Tehran for their daughter, Roxana Saberi, to be released on Monday. Hasan Sarbakhshian/Associated Press

Ms. Saberi’s father, Reza Saberi, who lives in Fargo, N.D., but was born in Iran, told reporters outside his family home here that his daughter was “exhausted but in good condition.” Ms. Saberi did not talk to reporters after leaving Evin prison, which is known for housing political prisoners. American officials and outside analysts believe Ms. Saberi’s arrest was politically motivated, at a time when the Obama administration is reaching out to Iran after nearly three decades of hostility. The Iranian government, some analysts said, sought to use the arrest of a journalist to gain leverage in talks with the United States over its nuclear program and other matters.

But with Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton both taking up Ms. Saberi’s cause, analysts said, the political cost of keeping her in prison may have come to seem too high. The fact that the severity of the charges against her was changed, officials said, illustrated the internal tug-of-war over the case.


Roxana Saberi in an undated photo/ Associated Press

“They understood that this wouldn’t help them,” said Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state who has conducted informal talks with Iranians. “They were asking the U.S. to put words into action, and at the same time, they were going in the opposite direction.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad is seeking re-election on June 12. The letter he sent to the court was the first time he had intervened in a judicial case in his four years in office. Analysts said it would help his prospects if he could advance negotiations with the United States before the election.

“Mr. Ahmadinejad wants to take serious steps towards improving ties with the United States before the elections,” said Ibrahim Yazdi, a political analyst in Tehran. “If he succeeds, it would be to his interest.”

If the United States were to establish an interest section in Tehran, for example, that would allow Iranians to obtain visas to the United States, without traveling to a third country, as they have to do now.

Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran, and Mark Landler from Washington. Alan Cowell contributed from Paris.


2 Responses to “Journalist’s Release Shows Divide Among Iran’s Leaders”

  1. dorian9 said

    good work, secretary of state!


  2. Princess said

    this is very good news.


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