TEHRAN — Iran will allow the mothers of three Americans arrested along the Iraqi border in July to visit them in a Tehran prison, the foreign minister announced yesterday, saying the decision was made on humanitarian grounds.
The case of the three Americans, held for more than nine months, has exacerbated tensions between the two countries that were already high because of the standoff over Iran’s accelerating nuclear program and criticism of its crackdown on postelection protesters.
Raising further concern, Swiss diplomats who were allowed to visit the Americans on April 22 reported that two of them were in poor health, according to their families.
Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said on state television late yesterday that the Iranian government has ordered the visas to be issued on humanitarian grounds.
The Americans’ families have been told before that they would be granted visas to visit Iran, then learned that they did not have the permission.
Iran has accused Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal of illegal border crossing, espionage, and having links to US intelligence. Their relatives and the US government have denied the spying accusations.
The families of the three graduates of the University of California at Berkeley say they were hiking in the scenic Kurdistan region of northern Iraq and that if they did cross the border with Iran, they did so unintentionally. Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey, and the brother of Fattal, Alex Fattal, said yesterday that they heard through an established channel of communication that the Iranian government has approved visas for several family members. Hickey would not elaborate on exactly who told them they had been granted the visas.
Hickey said, however, that it is the third time the families have heard that in recent weeks “only to not get visas put in our hands.’’