TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's president said Sunday that an American journalist convicted of spying for the United States should be allowed to offer a full defense during her appeal, a day after she was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The message was a sign that Iran's leadership does not want the case to derail moves toward a dialogue with the Obama administration to break a 30-year diplomatic deadlock.
Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to Tehran's chief prosecutor instructing him to personally ensure that "suspects be given all their rights to defend themselves" against the charges. "Prepare for the court proceedings … to observe and apply justice precisely," the state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.
The letter came a day after Iran announced the conviction and sentence for Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen who was born in the United States and grew up in Fargo, N.D. It was the first time Iran has found an American journalist guilty of espionage. Her lawyer said he will appeal.
President Barack Obama said Sunday he was "gravely concerned" about Saberi's safety and well-being and was confident she wasn't involved in espionage. The United States has called the charges baseless and said Iran would gain U.S. goodwill if it "responded in a positive way" to the case.
Ahmadinejad's letter also referred to Canadian-Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who has been in an Iranian prison since November on charges of insulting religious figures. Ahmadinejad requested that the prosecutor also ensure that he be allowed to fully defend himself, IRNA reported.
Iran has released few details about the charges against the two. Saberi was arrested in January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But this month, an Iranian judge leveled a more serious allegation that she was passing classified information to U.S. intelligence services.
Saberi had been living in Iran for six years and worked as a freelance reporter for news organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.