TEHRAN, Iran — The mothers of three jailed Americans brought appeals for their freedom to Iran on Wednesday on a mission that could be complicated by diplomatic showdowns over Iran's nuclear program.
The three women are scheduled to visit their children — who have been held since they were arrested in July along the Iraqi border — and seek meetings with top Iranian officials. Iran's state-run Press TV said the weeklong visas had been granted on an "Islamic humanitarian basis."
Nora Shourd, Cindy Hickey and Laura Fattal wore long black headscarves as they left their flight from Dubai at Tehran's main international airport south of the capital. They passed through routine customs and passport checks as well as being fingerprinted — a requirement imposed on Americans in retaliation for U.S. immigration controls on Iranians.
They were met by envoys from the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran, and taken in embassy vehicles from the airport. The Swiss ambassador to Tehran presented them with flowers at the airport.
"We are here to visit our children that we haven't seen for 10 months. We miss them very much," said Shourd in a quavering voice.
"We hope to take them back," she said as tears rolled down her cheek.
Their arrival came a day after the United States said it had won support from other major powers for new sanctions against Iran over its suspect nuclear program.
Iran has accused the Americans — Sarah Shourd, 31; her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27; and their friend Josh Fattal, 27 — of spying. Their relatives reject the accusation and say the three were hiking in Iraq's scenic and largely peaceful northern Kurdish region.
Their lawyer, Masoud Shafii, said the mothers are seeking meetings with officials involved in the case, and ideally with top Iranian leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters.
Although the Americans have not been publicly charged, Shafii left open the possibility of resolution outside usual legal channels.
"Anything is possible," he said about a potential release soon. "It doesn't have the feel of a normal court case."
Shafii plans to meet the mothers in Tehran and said they would visit the three detainees today. He said he has not yet been granted access to his clients.
The United States announced Tuesday that it has agreed with China, Russia and other major powers on a proposal for "strong" new sanctions against Iran, but they now face the challenge of getting backing from the rest of the U.N. Security Council.
The United States, which has not had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and its allies accuse Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Nora Shourd said she worried especially about the effect that near-solitary confinement may be having on her always social daughter. With no one to talk to, Sarah had become seriously depressed, Shourd says she was told by the Swiss diplomats who visited the trio last month. The diplomats also reported that Sarah had a serious gynecological condition, while Bauer had a stomach ailment.