Swiss Meeting Gives Hope to Imprisoned Hikers

Second positive move in less than a week by Iran

Three American hikers who were arrested for illegally entering Iran two months ago will be allowed to visit with officials from the Swiss government. This will be the first time western officials meet with the hikers since their arrest, and it provides a ray of hope to their families, who have urged their release.

The Swiss government represents U.S. interests in Tehran, since the United States has no formal diplomatic relations with the Islamic republic. Two U.S. officials said Iran had notified the Swiss that their consular services are required, meaning they can meet with the Americans, all graduates of U.C. Berkeley, to verify their conditions. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the matter.

The move is being seen as a conciliatory gesture by Iran.

It comes less than a week after Irainian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview with the Associated Press that he would ask the country's judiciary to "look at the case with maximum leniency."

It also comes two days before a high-profile meeting between Iran and five world powers seeking to persuade Iran to abandon any effort to build nuclear weapons.

The three Americans, Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, have not had contact with their families since their arrest.

Shourd's mother, Nora, lives in Oakland. She and the other parents recently wrote a letter to the Iranian president, appealing to his sensitive side.

"We're calling on him as a father, a parent. He certainly must know how we feel," Nora Shourd said, wearing a T-shirt stamped with "Free the Hikers." "We're saying 'be compassionate towards our children, be considerate.'"

More than a dozen candelight vigils are planned for tomorrow night across the country-- two months since the trio was taken into custody.

Two vigils are planned in Berkeley, according to Jennifer Miller,  a friend of both Shourd and Bauer. The first will take place from 4 p.m. to 6  p.m. at Upper Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus, near Bancroft Way at  Telegraph Avenue. The second is scheduled from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in downtown  Berkeley, at the plaza by the BART station at 2160 Shattuck Ave.
Organizers have also planned vigils in Philadelphia, Boston,  Minneapolis, Southern California and other locations. A full list is  available at

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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