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.
Jailed American journalist Roxana Saberi has been freed, following the decision of an Iranian appeals court to reduce her original eight-year sentence for spying. Her lawyer says she shed tears of relief at the news.
Friends and supporters of jailed U.S.-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi rejoiced over the decision by an Iranian appeals court to release her, and Saberi wept after hearing the news.
Eyewitnesses say that Saberi was released from a secret exit of Tehran's Evin prison, rather than the main gate, where journalists and supporters had gathered to see her.
Release was a surprise
Saberi's father Reza called his daughter's release "an unexpected surprise," telling reporters at her house in northern Tehran that she was "well."
Iran's Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi confirmed Saberi's sentence had been reduced by an appeals court, following Sunday's hearing.
Saberi's initial eight-year conviction on charges of espionage were reduced to a two-year suspended sentence, according to her attorney Abdulsamad Khorramshahi. He told journalists the Saberi case was one of the most gratifying he had ever taken on.
Incorrect interpretation of penal code
Saberi's second attorney, Saleh Nikbakht, told VOA the appellate judge ruled the Revolutionary Court, which tried her initially, had incorrectly interpreted the penal code.
You know, he says, the Revolutionary court sentenced her to an eight-year jail sentence for spying, cooperation with the United States as hostile government. We told them the USA is not hostile, although Iran and the USA do have political, economic and ideological problems.
Nikbakht adds that Iran's Supreme Court ruled, several years ago, the United States was not a "hostile nation," giving ammunition to his case.
He says that according to Iran's constitution, the court is not able name a country hostile. Only the Supreme Court is able to do that, and five years ago, the Supreme Court of Iran emphasized that the United States is not hostile. With these facts, he insists, the Appeals Court denied the charge [against Saberi] of cooperation with a hostile government.
Rights organizations lobbied for release
Human rights organizations across the world, including Reporters Without Borders, had lobbied for Saberi's release, calling her initial conviction "politically motivated."
The United States had repeatedly called the Iranian spying charges against Saberi "baseless" and had pleaded for her immediate release.
Saberi will reportedly be allowed to return home to the United States and under the terms of her suspended sentence will not be allowed to practice journalism in Iran for 5 years.
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