Freed American hikers leave Iran
Two Americans jailed in Iran as spies have left Tehran, closing a high-profile drama with Washington that brought more than two years of hope then heartbreak for the families as the Islamic Republic's hard-line rulers rejected international calls for their release.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal left Iran just as darkness fell in the capital. The men were flying to Oman's capital, Muscat, although it was not clear how long they will stay in the Gulf state before heading home to America.
The case of Bauer and Fattal, who were convicted by an Iranian court of spying for the United States, has deepened strains in the already fraught relationship between Washington and Tehran.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was first to mention last week that the Americans could be released, is in the United States and is scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow.
The release came just minutes before US President Barack Obama addressed the UN General Assembly. There was no direct evidence that Iran timed the American's freedom to overshadow Obama's speech, but Iran has conducted international political stagecraft in the past.
Most famously, Iran waited until just moments after Ronald Reagan's presidential inauguration in January 1981 to free 52 American hostages held for 444 days at the former US Embassy after it was stormed by militants backing Iran's Islamic Revolution. The timing was seen as a way to embarrass ex-President Jimmy Carter for his backing of Iran's former monarch.
Switzerland represents American interests in Iran because the US has no diplomatic relations with Tehran and the prisoners are expected to be flown to Oman now.
The two men, both 29, were driven out of the prison compound just minutes after their Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafiei, said he has completed the paperwork for their release.
Bauer and Fattal were arrested along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009 and sentenced last month to eight years each in prison. A third American arrested with them, Sarah Shourd, was freed last year on bail.
The three Americans - friends from their days at the University of California at Berkeley - have maintained their innocence and denied the espionage charges against them.