- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TEHRAN | Iran’s judiciary ordered a full investigation Monday into the case of an American journalist imprisoned for purportedly spying for the U.S. and allowed the woman’s parents to visit her for the first time since she was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The developments in the case of Roxana Saberi appear to be the latest signs that some senior Iranian officials want to ensure tensions over the case do not derail moves toward a dialogue with the Obama administration to break a 30-year diplomatic deadlock between the two countries.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton renewed calls for Iran to release Miss Saberi and said she hoped for positive action from the judiciary chief’s investigation order.

“We believe she should be freed immediately, that the charges against her are baseless and that she has been subjected to a process that has been nontransparent, unpredictable [and] arbitrary,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters.

Miss Saberi, who was born in the U.S. and grew up in Fargo, N.D., was convicted of espionage last week after a one-day trial behind closed doors. Her Iranian-born father, Reza, told the Associated Press that he and his wife visited their daughter in Evin Prison, north of Tehran.

“She seems to be OK,” he said. “She was looking forward for the appeal because she knows that this kind of verdict was too heavy for her.”

The judiciary chief’s order came a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to Tehran’s chief prosecutor, urging him to ensure that Miss Saberi be allowed a full defense during her appeal.

It was a rare request from an Iranian president and came at a time when President Obama has been seeking engagement with Iran’s leaders.

However, Iran’s Foreign Ministry took a swipe Monday at Mr. Obama, saying “those who studied law” should not comment on the case without seeing the context. It was a clear reference to Mr. Obama, who has a law degree from Harvard University and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago before becoming president.

Some analysts have said the mixed messages emerging from Iran may be an indication of political divisions in the leadership, with hard-liners in the judiciary trying to hamper government moves toward closer relations with the U.S. by pressing the Saberi case.

Miss Saberi was arrested in January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But earlier this month, a judge leveled a more serious allegation that she was passing classified information to U.S. intelligence services.

Her father said he hoped officials will heed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s letter.

“Also, they should be compassionate in their judgment and not be very harsh,” he told the AP.

Miss Saberi’s conviction came about two months ahead of key presidential elections in June that are pitting hard-liners against reformists, who support better relations with Washington.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is seeking re-election, but the hard-liner’s popularity has waned and he has been trying to draw support away from his top reformist opponent, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.

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