Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States is "very heartened" by the release of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who had been convicted by an Iranian court of spying. U.S. officials called the release a humanitarian gesture and said there had been no back-room deal with Tehran.
U.S. officials are calling the release of Saberi very welcome, but they are down-playing the political significance of the move, saying it is unlikely in itself to yield a major improvement in the chilly bilateral relationship.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set the tone in an appearance at the State Department daily briefing, where she welcomed the department's new chief spokesman Ian Kelly.
She said the Swiss ambassador in Washington, whose government represents U.S. interests in Tehran, had officially informed her that Saberi's eight-year espionage sentence had been reduced to two years, and suspended. "Obviously we continue to take issue with the charges again 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 we can send their way," he said.
Spokesman Kelly reiterated the U.S. stand that the spy charges against Saberi, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen and part-time broadcast reporter, were baseless.
He said the release was welcome, but declined to say the Obama administration sees it as having broader political significance. "We see it as it is. We see it is a humanitarian gesture. We welcome it as such. We continue to have a lot of concerns about Iran. We have concerns about the human-rights situation there. Even though, as I say, we are very pleased that Ms. Saberi has been released, we will continue to press for the safe return of all American citizens detained in Iran, including Esha Momeni," she said.
Journalism graduate student Esha Momeni, another Iranian-American, was jailed for about a month last year in Iran in connection with interviews she conducted there and has since been barred from leaving the country.
Another case of major interest to U.S. officials is that of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared after arriving at an Iranian resort island in the Gulf two years ago.
A senior U.S. diplomat who spoke to reporters said Saberi's release was a good sign, amid Obama administration efforts to engage Iran on its nuclear program and other issues, but said it is not seen in Washington as signaling any "big détente."
The same official said the release was not part of a deal for the release of Iranian prisoners held in Iraq or for any other transaction.