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Analysis: What journalist's release means for Iran, U.S. relations

  • Story Highlights
  • During journalist's detention, U.S. had to go through third parties to engage with Iran
  • The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since 1979.
  • Iran president sent unprecedented letter to ensure Saberi could defend herself
  • Amanpour: Irritant removed from process of Obama engaging in dialogue with Iran
By Christiane Amanpour
CNN Chief International Correspondent
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Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent, examines what the release of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi means for diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States.

(CNN) -- Iran's Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi said Monday that journalist Roxana Saberi's sentence was commuted as a gesture of "Islamic mercy" because she expressed regret and cooperated with authorities.

Some Iranian sources also tell CNN her release is a gesture to President Obama who publicly insisted Saberi had not been spying for the United States.

Obama said he was "gravely concerned with her safety and well-being" at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago last month.

"She is an Iranian-American who was interested in the country which her family came from," he said. "And it is appropriate for her to be treated as such, and to be released."

Saberi, who has an Iranian father and Japanese mother, is also an Iranian citizen, and was in Tehran as such. She was writing a book, and working as a freelance journalist for organizations such as National Public Radio and the BBC. NPR president Vivian Schiller today said they are "thrilled" at Saberi's release.

When she was first arrested earlier this year, Saberi told her father she had been caught buying wine, illegal in Islamic Iran. The Iranian Foreign Ministry then said she had been working without a valid journalist permit, and finally in a one-day closed door trial, she was accused, and convicted of spying for the United States.

"Without press credentials and under the name of being a reporter, she was carrying out espionage activities," Hassan Haddad, a deputy public prosecutor, told the Iranian Students News Agency on April 9.

Her sentence -- eight years in Iran's notorious Evin Prison.

Even before the quick trial and sentencing, an Iranian source told CNN, Saberi had been making contacts with "groups and people hostile to the Iranian government." The source told CNN that Saberi's sentence would depend on whether she was deemed to have done that deliberately, or unwittingly.

When the harsh eight-year sentence was handed down it sparked outrage in the United States. Saberi grew up in North Dakota, where she was once crowned a beauty queen. Shortly after her sentencing, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to Tehran's prosecutor calling for the appeals court to ensure justice and allow Saberi to "freely and legally defend" herself.

Thereafter, statements from the judiciary, from her lawyer and from her father, were more optimistic, seeming to sense a positive resolution of this case.

Indeed when her lawyers emerged from the appeal process Sunday, they said they had been able to defend her and believed her sentence would be reduced.

Now that it has been commuted to a two-year suspended sentence, and Saberi has been released from Evin Prison, Iranian authorities say she is free to leave the country. But during a five-year probation period, she will be barred from practicing journalism in Iran. In addition, "If she commits a similar crime, the two-year jail term will be enforced against her," said Jamshidi, the judiciary spokesman.

Throughout Saberi's arrest and imprisonment, the United States could not officially engage directly with Iran. The United States had to go through third parties such as the Swiss Embassy which represents U.S. interests in Iran because the two countries have not had diplomatic relations since 1980.

Now that Saberi has been released after a spell in jail and a slap on the wrist, one irritant has been removed from the process of dialogue Obama says he wants to start with Iran, in order to eventually resolve the major strategic issues between the two countries and end 30-years of hostility.

All About Roxana SaberiIranMahmoud Ahmadinejad

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