Thu, Oct 01, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Swiss diplomats granted access to Americans in Iran

AFP , GENEVA

Switzerland, which represents US interests in Iran, was granted access to three American hikers on Tuesday, almost two months after they were detained for straying across the border from Iraq.

“Swiss diplomats had access today to three American citizens detained in Iran,” a ministry spokesman said, without providing further details.

Joshua Fattal, 27, Shane Bauer, 27 and Sarah Shourd, 31, went missing on July 31 after setting out on a hike from Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region on the poorly marked border. Iran later notified the US, through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, of their arrest.

The US, which is building up to a key meeting today with other world powers and Iran in Geneva to discuss Tehran’s suspect nuclear program, gave a cautious welcome to the news.

“We are grateful that the Iranian government has decided to live up to its Vienna Convention obligations,” US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said, speaking in Washington.

“You know, obviously, we welcome this step but, obviously, we are anxious to see Iran seriously engage on Thursday, and we look forward to that meeting as well,” he said.

The White House, however, was keen to differentiate between the two issues, apparently worried that Tehran might seek to exploit the hikers’ detention for political purposes.

“Our government has always viewed that the hikers should be released and we don’t conflate the two issues,” spokesman Robert Gibbs said. “There isn’t any connection and there shouldn’t be. The hikers should be released.”

The State Department spokesman said the US was looking forward to hearing back from the Swiss on the conditions in which the trio were being held.

The US and Canada last week urged Iran to resolve the cases of seven of their nationals detained or missing in the country, including the three hikers, as a “humanitarian gesture.”

Iranian officials have said it will take time to decide on the fate of the Americans as Tehran examines the “real reason” they entered Iran.

Media reports said Bauer had been living in Damascus with Shourd — who teaches English in the Syrian capital — since late last year. He speaks Arabic fluently and works as a freelance journalist, though he was not on assignment when he entered Iran.

Fattal has been described as an environmentalist who taught sustainable living skills in several countries, including India and China.

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