Ahmadinejad promises fair appeal for reporter

Iranian president intervenes to head off diplomatic rift with US

One day after a closed-door court in Tehran sentenced an American-Iranian reporter to eight years in prison for alleged espionage, aides to Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he told prosecutors to make sure she is fairly defended in her appeal.

The latest signals from the Iranian leadership may help avert or delay a damaging new diplomatic row between Tehran and Washington at a time when overtures from President Barack Obama seem to offer some hope of thawing relations that have been on ice for three decades.

The White House said on Saturday that Mr Obama was "deeply disappointed" by the court's decision on Roxana Saberi, 31, a freelance journalist who has reported for news organisations including the BBC and National Public Radio in the US. Raised in North Dakota, Ms Saberi, once a finalist in the Miss America contest, holds a Masters degree from Cambridge University. She moved to Iran six years ago and holds dual nationality. She was arrested in January on charges she was working without proper press credentials. Earlier this month, however, those charges were raised to spying for the US.

The American administration called the allegations "baseless" while her father, Reza Saberi, said his daughter was tricked into making self-incriminating statements. "The trial of course was not a real trial," he said yesterday. "She didn't know there was a trial until a few minutes before it began."

Exactly how the case of Ms Saberi relates to domestic politics – Mr Ahmadinejad is seeking re-election in June – and to Iran's manoeuvrings on the world stage is hard to divine. Some analysts suggest her trial was orchestrated by hardliners to sabotage bridge-building with Mr Obama.

At the same time, her plight may hand Mr Ahmadinejad a bargaining chip, just as the White House seeks to reopen channels with his government, both inviting Iran to participate in regional discussions on the future of Afghanistan and offering new talks on the future of its nuclear programmes.

Hope of some relief for Ms Saberi, now being held in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, came with the news of the letter, reportedly written by Mr Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, and sent to the chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, who is known for his harsh record. It made reference to her and to a Canadian-Iranian blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, who is also detained. "At the President's insistence, please ensure all the legal steps taken in these cases are based on justice," the letter said, urging the prosecutor "personally ensure those accused enjoy all freedoms and legal rights to defend themselves."

Reza Saberi is in Iran, but complained he was not allowed into his daughter's trial. Meanwhile, the Swiss government, which represents US diplomatic interests in Iran, was attempting to verify her exact whereabouts and check her welfare.

Playing out in the background, meanwhile, was another diplomatic dispute concerning a UN conference on racism, which is to open in Geneva this morning with an address by Mr Ahmadinejad. Several western states – though not Britain – have refused to attend because of expectations Iran will insist the conference explicitly accuses Israel of racism. The United States, with its first African-American in the White House, said on Saturday that "with regret" it would join a boycott. Others boycotting are: Israel, Italy, Canada, Australia, and The Netherlands.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This winner of the best new business in shrops...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - Email Marketing Services

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are looking for a highly or...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultan...

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£22000 - £25900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is expanding and th...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders