U.S. says Iran has confirmed journalist's trial
WASHINGTON, April 16 |
WASHINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday Tehran had formally informed Washington via Swiss interlocutors that an Iranian-American journalist was put on trial this week and a verdict would be given soon in the case.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood repeated the U.S. view that spying charges against 31-year-old Roxana Saberi were "baseless and without foundation" and demanded her release.
"We're able to confirm that Roxana Saberi went on trial in Iran earlier this week and we understand that the verdict is expected soon," Wood told reporters.
Wood raised questions about the transparency of Iran's judicial system and said the United States was in "regular contact" with Swiss diplomats over Saberi.
Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran as Tehran and Washington do not have diplomatic ties. Wood said a Swiss representative was not in the courtroom during Saberi's case.
"Our concerns remain. We want to see her released," Wood said.
"We call on the Iranians to provide as much information as they can to us about Roxana Saberi," he added.
Iran's judiciary said on Tuesday Saberi's trial began on Monday in a Revolutionary Court, which handles state security matters, and a verdict would be announced in the next two or three weeks.
Saberi's case coincides with talk of a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations, and U.S. President Barack Obama has said Washington wants to have a dialogue with Tehran on a range of issues.
Wood said Saberi's case was "certainly not helpful."
"We think responding in a positive way to the Saberi case would be helpful, in terms of winning goodwill on the part of the United States and the American people," Wood said.
"But we've made a strategic decision to engage Iran directly in dialogue. We're committed to that. We've yet to see that Iran is interested in reciprocating."
At a conference on Afghanistan held in the Hague on March 31, the United States handed over a letter to the Iranian delegation urging help in the case of Saberi and two other Americans, including a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran two years ago.
Wood said the Iranians still had not responded formally to that letter, or aide memoire, which was a rare diplomatic exchange between the two countries.
The United States cut diplomatic ties with Tehran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis in which militant Iranian students held 52 diplomats hostage at the U.S. embassy for 444 days.
Saberi, a freelance reporter, has worked in the past for National Public Radio, the BBC and other media. She was born in the United States and her parents have visited Iran to appeal for her release.
Under Iran's penal code, spying can carry the death penalty. The Islamic Republic last year executed an Iranian businessman convicted of spying on the military for Israel.
(Editing by Will Dunham)
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