MUSCAT, Oman – After more than two years in Iranian custody, two Americans convicted as spies took their first steps toward home Wednesday as they bounded down from a private jet and into the arms of family for a joyful reunion in the Gulf state of Oman.
The families called this “the best day of our lives,” and President Barack Obama called their release – under a $1 million bail-for-freedom deal – “wonderful news.”
The release capped complicated diplomatic maneuvers over a week of confusing signals by Iran’s leadership on the fate of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer.
Although the fate of the two gripped America, it was on the periphery of the larger showdowns between Washington and Tehran that include Iran’s nuclear program and its ambitions to widen military and political influence in the Middle East and beyond. But – for a moment at least – U.S. officials may be adding words of thanks in addition to their calls for alarm over Iran.
For Tehran, it was a chance to court some goodwill after sending a message of defiance with hard-line justice in the July 2009 arrests of the Americans along the Iran-Iraq border. The Americans always maintained they were innocent hikers.
The release came on the eve of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s previously scheduled address today to the U.N. General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting.
The families waited on the tarmac at a royal airfield near the main international airport in Oman’s capital, Muscat. Also returning to Oman was Sarah Shourd, who was arrested with Bauer and Fattal but freed a year ago. She received a marriage proposal from Bauer while in prison.
At about 20 minutes before midnight, Fattal and Bauer – wearing jeans and casual shirts – raced down the steps from the blue-and-white plane. They made no statements to reporters before walking into the airport terminal building, which was guarded by security officials. The men appeared thin, but in good health.