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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


US 'Encouraged' by Bail Release of Iranian-American Academic

21 August 2007

The United States has welcomed, as encouraging, news that Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari has been released on bail from an Iranian prison. The State Department is urging immediate, unconditional, freedom for Esfandiari and three other U.S. citizens detained in Iran. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since 1979, and officials here say they are still awaiting confirmation of news reports of Esfandiari's release.

But both the White House and State Department are welcoming the reports as encouraging. In a talk with reporters, State Department Acting Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said he hopes it means Iran will free all the Iranian-Americans it has detained in recent months.

"Our position has always been that Esfandiari as well as the other three had done nothing wrong, should not have been in the situation that they found themselves in and should be free right now," said Gallegos. "We are encouraged by this news. We will confirm whether it's true. And we continue to express our desire and belief that the others should be released as soon as possible and be allowed to join their families."

Esfandiari, who heads the Middle East program at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, had returned to Iran late last year to visit her elderly mother.

She was barred from leaving after an incident in which her passport was stolen, and was arrested and taken to Tehran's notorious Evin prison in May.

She was accused by prosecutors of harming Iran's national security, and of having links to an alleged U.S. effort to topple Iran's clerical authorities.

The Bush administration says Esfandiari was not engaged in any U.S. government business. Spokesman Gallegos said Esfandiari and the other U.S. citizens were on private visits and posed no threat to the Iranain government.

In a telephone conference call with reporters, former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton - head of the Wilson Center - said he "rejoiced" at the news of Esfandiari's release from prison, though he said it is unclear whether she still faces charges and a possible trial.

Hamilton said he had sent a letter to Iran's Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appealing for the release of Esfandiari, who he said, in her job at the Wilson Center, had made tireless efforts to increase understanding between the peoples of Iran and the United States.

He said he received a message in response through Iran's U.N. mission in which the Iranian leader implicitly promised to look into the case.

"He said that he was pleased with the letter that he had received from me and the commitment to peace and justice that I had expressed," said Hamilton. "He indicated that he had given instructions to address the issue of Haleh - he didn't use Haleh's name specifically - and that necessary measures would be taken as soon as possible."

Hamilton said the Wilson Center had also asked several foreign governments to intercede with Iran on behalf of Esfandiari.

He said the Bush administration has been supportive and helpful in the case, though he was unaware of any indirect contact between Tehran and Washington on the matter.

Iranian officials said earlier this month they had completed investigations of Esfandiari and New York-based academic Kian Tajbakhsh, who was also jailed and accused of harming Iranian national security.

A third Iranian-American, Ali Shakeri of a university conflict-resolution group in California, is under detention as well, though Iranian officials have not disclosed any charges against him.

The fourth U.S. citizen, journalist Parnaz Azima of the U.S.-funded Persian language Radio Farda, has not been jailed but has been barred from leaving the country after a family visit.

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