The mothers of 3 American hikers imprisoned in Iran for nearly 10 months visited with their children recently after receiving permission and visas from the Iranian government. The 3 young people were detained by Iranian authorities last July when they were hiking near the Iranian border with Iraq.
The visit to Tehran by the mothers of Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Josh Fattal was arranged with the help of the Swiss embassy, which acts as America's protecting power in Iran, since diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran were severed after the Islamic revolution in 1979.
The United States regards the visit as a positive development. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley spoke about the scenes from the reunion between the hikers and their mothers broadcast on Iran's state TV:
"We are gratified to see them, to hear their voices. Anyone has to understand the wrenching experience of parents and family members and friends who have been separated for this length of time from their loved ones."
Iran, Mr. Crowley noted, has specific responsibilities under international law:
"We've had some consular visits, not enough. We have concerns about the health and welfare of these young people. We are also mindful of the Americans who are in custody and unanswered questions regarding disappeared Americans, including [American business man] Robert Levinson. We won't forget about them at all."
During the mothers' visit, questions were raised by Iran's government-controlled media over the opportunity for similar visits to Iranian citizens held in American prisons. Mr. Crowley said that access has not been denied to either consular officials or family members of Iranians in prison in the U.S.:
"In fact, we have reiterated many times that if Iran wishes to arrange consular visits or family visits, we will be happy to work cooperatively and constructively with them. But I would certainly say and remind that there is no equivalence between 3 hikers who wandered across an unmarked border and individuals in U.S. custody who have undergone a transparent legal process and have been tried and convicted, in most cases, of arms smuggling."
Mr. Crowley urged the Iranian government now to do the right thing with the three American hikers: release them and allow them to go home and be reunited with their families.