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Posted by on Apr 18, 2009 in At TMV | 5 comments

Iran 8 Year Prison Sentence For American Journalist Could Undercut Obama U.S. – Iran Thaw Efforts

amd_roxana.jpgThe news that Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi was sentenced for eight years by an Iranian court on spying charges is likely to ice up President Barack Obama’s stated goal of slowly thawing relations between the two countries.

Under Obama, the U.S. has been talking about trying to open a dialogue with Iran after nearly 30 years as arch enemies while, at the same time, the Obama administration has been reportedly clamoring for Saberi’s release. News reports now essentially tell this story — but could there be one more element here? Could the Iranian government plan to use this sentence as kind of bargaining chip with the U.S.? Time will tell.

The BBC reports that Obama administration officials are dismayed by the ruling:

The US has expressed dismay after a court in Iran jailed an Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, for eight years on spying charges.

Ms Saberi, 31, was sentenced after a secret one-day trial in Tehran.

President Barack Obama “is deeply disappointed at this news,” his spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Correspondents say the case will have serious implications for US-Iranian relations at a time when Mr Obama has reached out to the Tehran.

But could there be yet ANOTHER explanation? Could it be that hardliners are using this case to try and sandbag efforts to thaw relations between the two countries? The BBC’s John Leyne, reporting from Tehran, raises the possibility:

It all raises deep suspicions over whether this case has been hijacked by hardliners within the Iranian government, eager to sabotage any reconciliation with the United States.

Ever since President Obama started reaching out to the government of President Ahmadinejad, it has been clear that the government here is skeptical of his intentions, and confused about how to respond.

The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has suggested there is no difference between President Obama and his predecessor, George W Bush. Sometimes it seems as if the government here pines for the certainties of the Bush era.

In one recent demonstration, government approved protesters chanted “Death to Obama” for the first time.

Times Online puts this event in the current international context and it does seem to — to use the trite U.S. journalistic phrase — not pass the “smell test”:

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said: “We will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government.”

Saberi’s conviction comes as Washington presses ahead with overtures to Iran, which US analysts believe is close to developing nuclear weapons. Clinton is to send Dennis Ross, her special adviser on Iran, to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to discuss holding one-to-one talks with Tehran.

Last week Clinton met European diplomats including Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, to discuss inviting Iran to participate in talks with the United Nations security council. “We’re willing to have a direct dialogue with Iran,” said a state department spokesman.

Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said he had chatted briefly with Iran’s foreign minister at a conference in Tokyo last week.

Observers at the annual Army Day parade in Tehran yesterday noted that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a relatively low-key speech and there was little sign of the antiwestern banners and slogans usually seen at the event.

Here’s a news report on the conviction: