- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that she was “heartened” by the release of an Iranian-American journalist from a Tehran prison, but that Washington continues to “take issue” with the spying charges against her.

U.S. officials said there had been “no deal-making” or otherwise using “back channels” to secure Roxana Saberi’s freedom.

Ms. Saberi, 32, was freed earlier Monday after her eight-year sentence was reduced to a two-year suspended sentence. She was arrested in January for working in the Islamic Republic after her press credentials had expired and was later accused of spying for an enemy government.

“Obviously we continue to take issue with the charges against her and the verdicts rendered, but we are very heartened that she has been released and wish her and her family all of the very best,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters at the State Department.

“She is currently with her family and will be leaving Tehran to return to the United States in the coming days,” the secretary said of Ms. Saberi.

Days before the court’s decision was announced, diplomats from several countries working on the issue said in private that they had detected signs of a favorable outcome. As one of those signs, they cited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call on the country’s judiciary for Ms. Saberi to be treated fairly.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the administration views her release purely as a humanitarian gesture, rather than a grand political overture in Washington’s pursuit of better relations.

But some U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said that the Obama administration views the Iranian decision as a “good, but not great” sign in the broader context of the long-troubled relationship between the two countries.

Ms. Saberi, a freelance reporter, has worked for National Public Radio and other news outlets. Her family says she was completing a book on Iran at the time of her arrest.

Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said the case “was intimately connected with the ongoing developments in Iranian-U.S. relations and the entire process was politically motivated as the outcome demonstrates.”

“Other prisoners should also receive fair trials and due process,” he said. “Let’s not forget that at least 400-500 other political prisoners are languishing in Iranian prisons, prosecuted based on similar trumped up charges.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also welcomed the court’s decision.

“We are thrilled that Roxana Saberi has been released from prison and look forward to welcoming her home,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

“But this is also a moment to reflect on the difficult conditions that Iranian journalists endure every day,” he said. “Several Iranian journalists remain jailed today. We urge they be given the same opportunity for judicial review that was afforded to Roxana Saberi.”

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