NEW YORK -- Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki has announced that Tehran will allow the mothers of three American hikers arrested on the Iran-Iraq border in July to visit them in prison.
Iran has accused Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal of illegal border crossing, espionage, and links to U.S. intelligence. Their families and the U.S. government have denied the spying accusations and repeatedly called for their release.
Speaking on state television on May 10, Mottaki said the decision has been made on "humanitarian" grounds.
An undated photo of Shane Bauer (left) and Sarah Shourd
Reports said Tehran had already instructed its UN mission in New York to issue visas to Cindy Hickey, Laura Fattal, and Nora Shroud, the mothers of the three hikers. Because the United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, Iran's mission to the United Nations is authorized in special cases to issue travel visas.
This is not the first time that it has been rumored that the hikers' mothers will be allowed to visit their loved ones. But it is the first time that the news is coming directly from Tehran through official channels.
Cindy Hickey, mother of Shane Bauer, told RFE/RL that the women are hopeful but are still awaiting official confirmation.
"We've only heard this via media. We haven't had an official confirmation that our visas have been processed," she said. "So until we hear from the [Iran] interest section that we can pick up our visas, we're kind of apprehensive because we've heard this before.
"We've been told that our visas have been granted for the past several weeks. However, today [May 10] is the first day that we see that it's coming out of Tehran's press...So that gives us more hope that the Iranian officials are releasing this news to the press on their own. But until, again, we know for sure and we have the visas in our hands, we're kind of optimistic, but cautiously optimistic."
Today, well after Hickey's comments, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters the visas "have been issued."
The date for the visit has not yet been set, and there are few details about how much time and under what conditions the mothers will be allowed to meet with their children.
The U.S. State Department has repeatedly called for the release of the hikers. It is thought Iran might be keeping the three as a bargaining chip in the deepening row with the West over Tehran's nuclear program.
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.
At an official dinner on May 6 at Iran's UN mission, the U.S. representative at the dinner -- Deputy UN Ambassador Alejandro Wolff -- gave Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki a letter from the three mothers appealing for the release of the hikers.
Cindy Hickey says that they have had their travel bags ready for several weeks now, only to be told several times that their visas had not been approved. But this time, she says, it feels different.