Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made a habit of launching a propaganda offensive in connection with his annual September visit to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly. He grants interviews, issues half-baked diplomatic proposals, hints at rapprochement with the West and occasionally promises the release of foreign prisoners. This year is no exception: On the eve of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s address, two Americans imprisoned in Tehran were allowed to leave the country Wednesday after nearly 26 months of detention.
The freedom of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal did not come easily, or cheaply. Though Mr. Ahmadinejad promised their release in interviews with The Post’s Lally Weymouth and NBC this month, Iran’s judiciary resisted, holding up the action and yielding only after $500,000 in “bail” was paid for each of them. A similar tug of war occurred a year ago, when Mr. Ahmadinejad announced the release of another American, Sarah Shourd, a friend of the two men who had been held with them.
All three of these U.S. citizens were arrested on July 31, 2009, while hiking near the border between Iraq and Iran. They never should have been detained, much less locked up in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. No evidence has been produced for the charges of espionage brought against them; that’s because there isn’t any. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal, both 29, were nevertheless sentenced last month to eight years in prison.
The release of the two men is not a humanitarian gesture, as Mr. Ahmadinejad would have it, but the suspension of a criminal act — hostage-taking — by the regime. Yet the populist president has tried to use the freeing of the Americans to portray himself as a moderate who can do business with the West — in contrast to the hard-line clergy with whom he has been engaged in a prolonged power struggle. In the view of Iran’s hard-liners, there is no need even to feint at compromise with the United States and its allies over the ongoing effort to build nuclear weapons, despite the squeeze of economic sanctions.