x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Oman plays down US prisoners story

Omani officials play down a report that an Omani delegation was to visit Iran to seek the release of two US prisoners.

MUSCAT // Omani officials played down an Iranian newspaper's report that a delegation from Oman was to visit Iran yesterday to pursue the release of two US men jailed there for more than a year. Oman played a key role in securing the release of Sarah Shourd, who was arrested with the two men: her fiancé, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal. The hardline Iranian newspaper Jomhuri-e-Eslami also reported that if the men were released, they would be able to leave for Muscat with the delegation.

"We have for weeks acted as intermediary for the release of the two Americans, but have not necessarily sent anybody for that purpose," an official of Oman's foreign ministry said in an interview yesterday. Masoud Shafiei, the Iranian lawyer for the men, said he was not aware of the Omanis' visit. Ms Shourd's release on September 14, which the Iranians said was on compassionate grounds because of illness, raised hopes Omani mediators might be able to help her friends, who possibly face trial on espionage charges.Ms Shourd was freed after Omani officials mediated bail of US$500,000 (Dh1.8 million) that apparently did not violate US sanctions against Tehran.

The three Americans were initially accused of illegally crossing into Iran. They said they were hiking in Iraq and if they crossed the border, it was inadvertent. 

salshaibany@thenational.ae

* With additional reported by Associated Press