Bishop claims Iran visit helped to release hikers

September 22, 2011

The release in September of U.S. hikers Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal
from an Iranian prison "affirms the importance of the role of religious
dialogue and its end product in this case, public diplomacy," according
to Episcopal bishop John Chane of Washington, D.C.

A delegation
of Christian and Muslim leaders had traveled to Iran at the invitation
of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to "seek ways to define common
ground between our two countries," as Chane put it. One objective of the
weeklong trip was to seek the release of the hikers on humanitarian
grounds, reported Episcopal News Service.

The delegation, which
returned Sep­tember 19, included Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, former
leader of the Arch­diocese of Washington, and Nihad Awad and Larry Shaw,
national executive director and board chairman respectively of the
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Chane said September
21 that the hikers' release "reaffirms the promises made during our
conversations with the president of Iran and representatives of the
Iranian foreign ministry. . . . I look forward to good conversations
with representatives of our government with the hope that it finds a way
to address the Iranians' concern for their citizens who are currently
in detention in the United States."

In reporting on the two men's
freedom, however, U.S. newspapers tended to point to the political
rivalries within Iran. Ahmadinejad had vowed to release the 29-year-old
men before his scheduled speech to the UN General Assembly. Iranian
judges rejected the Iranian president's plan at the last minute, but $1
million in bail from the Gulf state of Oman, a U.S. ally, appeared to
play a part in the events, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Bauer
and Fattal were arrested, along with Sarah Shourd, on July 31, 2009,
and accused of spying. Shourd was released on bail in September 2010 for
medical reasons and left Iran. In August, Bauer and Fattal were
sentenced to eight years in prison.

CAIR's Awad said the interfaith delegation's trip to Iran offered "a positive example of bridge-building initiatives."  —ENInews