Meanwhile, the Iranian team of the Professional Jihadist Brinkmanship League goes to work. They’ve put the offer out there, and now they will see what they can get for it, all the while seizing the opportunity to toy with the emotions of the hostage hikers and their families, and to attempt to string along the State Department for domestic and regional consumption.
“Iran’s Judiciary Clouds Fate of American Hikers,” by Alan Cowell and Rick Gladstone for the New York Times, September 14:
LONDON “” The Iranian judiciary on Wednesday contradicted an assurance by Iran”˜s president that two Americans arrested two years ago while hiking the Iran-Iraq frontier and imprisoned on espionage charges would be freed within two days as a humanitarian gesture, state media reported.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disclosed the plan on Tuesday in a move that seemed timed to portray him more favorably before he attends the United Nations General Assembly meeting next week. But the subsequent announcement by the judiciary could prove deeply embarrassing, showing the limits of his power and, given the swirling factional politics within the Iranian elite. highlighting frictions between Mr. Ahmadinejad and the conservatives who control the judiciary.
Specifically, the apparent conflict over the Americans” legal status could reflect a worsening rift between Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation’s spiritual leader and highest authority, who is closely allied to the court.
On Wednesday, state media reported that, in the words of the English-language Press TV satellite broadcaster, “Iran’s judiciary has refuted recent media reports on the imminent release of two American nationals that were convicted of committing espionage against the Islamic Republic for the U.S. government.”
“The two Americans are going to stay in prison for a bit longer. Reports of their imminent release are wrong,” a judiciary official was quoted as saying.
The semi-official Fars news agency said a judge was still reviewing a request by lawyers for the two men that they be freed on bail. “Only the judiciary is authorized to reveal information on this case,” Fars quoted a judiciary statement as saying.
The remarks by President Ahmadinejad in a television interview with NBC”s “Today” show from Tehran, came a month after the two Americans, Shane M. Bauer and Joshua F. Fattal, both 29, were sentenced to eight years imprisonment on convictions for spying and trespassing, which they have denied.
The sentence was considered unusually harsh and seen as an increasingly tough public relations problem for Mr. Ahmadinejad abroad, even when considering the longstanding estrangement in American-Iranian relations.
It remained unclear whether Mr. Ahmadinejad’s readiness to make a gesture would create an opening for an improvement in those relations. But it was welcomed by the families of the imprisoned Americans.
“Shane and Josh’s freedom means more to us than anything,” read a statement from the families on Tuesday “” before the judiciary”s reported statement, “and it’s a huge relief to read that they are going to be released. We”re grateful to everyone who has supported us and looking forward to our reunion with Shane and Josh. We hope to say more when they are finally back in our arms.”
A Web site devoted to their cause, FreetheHikers.org, festooned its homepage with the headline: “Iran Says Shane and Josh to be Released by Thursday!”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was more cautious in her reaction, but said she was encouraged.
“We obviously hope that we will see a positive outcome from what appears to be a decision by the government,” she said in Washington, without referring specifically to Mr. Ahmadinejad.
Asked in the “Today” interview with Ann Curry about the case against the Americans, Mr. Ahmadinejad said: “I think these two persons will be freed in a couple of days.”
He also repeated complaints about what he said were the unjust imprisonments of Iranians in the United States, and said that Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal were well cared for in Iran’s penal system. “It’s like staying in a hotel,” he said….