- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 28, 2010

TEHRAN (AP) — A delegation from the Persian Gulf sultanate of Oman is visiting Iran to try to secure the release of two American men imprisoned for more than a year and accused by Tehran of illegally crossing the border and spying, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday.

Oman helped secure the Sept. 14 release of a third American, Sarah Shourd, who was arrested along with the men, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, near the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009. Miss Shourd denies Iran’s allegations and says the three were just hiking through a scenic area of Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region during a vacation.

Her release raised hopes that Oman — an ally of both the United States and Tehran — could help secure the two men’s freedom as well. An Iranian newspaper reported over the weekend that Omani officials were expected to visit Iran as early as Sunday and hoped to take the detainees home with them.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley gave the first official confirmation that such a visit was taking place.

Mr. Crowley said the State Department has received no word of any progress in the Omanis’ discussions with Iranian officials, but he said the U.S. appreciates Oman’s efforts.

“The Omanis pledged to continue to help with the release of the two hikers and we’re very grateful for their efforts,” Mr. Crowley told reporters. “For the details I’ll defer to the Omani government.”

Earlier Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, hinted that the visit might be taking place, but did not outright confirm it.

Asked about the weekend newspaper report, Mr. Mehmanparast said only that “delegations from various countries travel to Iran” and vice versa.

Mr. Mehmanparast also said the two men’s cases were still under investigation by Iran’s hard-line judiciary.

Omani officials have not confirmed the delegation’s visit.

Miss Shourd’s release, which the Iranians said was on compassionate grounds because of illness, was a bittersweet milestone in a saga that has become one of many irritants in fraught U.S.-Iranian relations. She left behind her fiance, Mr. Bauer, and their friend Mr. Fattal — both 28 — to possibly face trial on espionage charges.

Miss Shourd, 32, was released after officials in Oman mediated a $500,000 bail that satisfied Iranian authorities and apparently did not violate U.S. economic sanctions against Tehran. The source of the bail payment has not been disclosed.

Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Miss Shourd while in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly. He told the Associated Press that he hopes Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal will be able to provide evidence “they had no ill intention in crossing the border” so they can be released but that would be up to the judiciary.

Miss Shourd and the families of the three Americans say they never intended to cross the border and that if they did, it was by accident.

Miss Shourd grew up in Los Angeles, Mr. Bauer is a native of Minnesota and Mr. Fattal grew up in Pennsylvania.

Miss Shourd and Mr. Bauer had been living together in Damascus, Syria, where Mr. Bauer was working as a freelance journalist and Miss Shourd as an English teacher. Mr. Fattal, an environmental activist, went to visit them last July 2009 shortly before their trip to northern Iraq.

Associated Press Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report from Washington.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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