Oman: No plans to free other 2 Americans in Iran

American hiker Josh Fattal speaks at a news conference after meeting with his mother in Iran.
September 17, 2010 7:26:18 AM PDT
Oman's foreign minister said Friday he's not aware of any plans for Iran to release two other Americans still being held there, but that his country stands willing to act as an intermediary between Tehran and Washington.

The Gulf sultanate played a key role in helping mediate the release of American Sarah Shourd from Iran on Tuesday. Two other Americans with whom she was arrested last year - Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal - are still being held in a Tehran prison on espionage charges.

Their families say Shourd's departure from Iran gives them hope the two men might also be freed. The Americans' mothers are calling on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to bring their sons with him when he comes to New York for the United Nations General Assembly next week.

But Oman's foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawai bin Abdullah, said there was no indication any deal is in the works.

"We would like to help and find ways and means to help," he said by phone from the southern Omani city of Salalah. But he added, "at this moment there are no plans" for the other prisoners to be released.

To help secure Shourd's release, Oman, which is considered an ally by both Washington and Tehran, played intermediary for a $500,000 bail that satisfied Iranian authorities and apparently did not violate U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.

The 32-year-old Shourd left Tehran for Muscat aboard a royal Omani jet late Tuesday.

American and Omani officials say she has been in Oman since. She has not been seen publicly since the night of her arrival.

Bin Alawai declined to say who in Oman posted the bail payment, or even confirm whether any money changed hands.

"That was worked out," he said, adding that "neither party wants to disclose" how the bail payment was handled.

The three Americans were detained along Iran's border with Iraq in July 2009 and later accused of spying. Their families say the Americans were innocent hikers in the scenic mountains of Iraq's Kurdish region and if they did stray across the border into Iran, they did so unwittingly.

Bauer and Fattal remain in Tehran's Evin Prison and could soon face trial. Convictions on the spy charges they face could bring sentences of up to 10 years in prison.

Oman has acted as a behind-the-scenes mediator between Tehran and Washington for years, giving it a unique perspective on the two adversaries' points of view.

The sultanate has in the past allowed the U.S. military access to air bases for refueling, logistics and storage. But it also is in close contact with nearby Iran, with which it shares control of the narrow Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's oil tanker traffic passes.

Bin Alawai said he believed there are now "great possibilities" to repair relations between the United States and Iran.

To help restore ties, he urged American officials to tone down what is seen as harsh rhetoric directed at Iran.

"The rhetoric does not necessarily help. You see we have a different culture, but a common interest, in this region," he said.

"Our policy," he added, "is not to push our friends to confrontations."


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