TEHRAN, Iran – A prominent Iranian-American scholar being held on spy charges here is being treated well and may be released in coming weeks, a senior Iranian official told FOX News.
Mohammad Javad Larijani, a influential politician, cleric and the Iranian judiciary's chief adviser on international affairs and human rights, called the charges against Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington serious, but said he remained optimistic that her situation would be "resolved" soon and she will be able to go home.
"I've been given assurances of her health and well treatment and the opening in the near future of access to her," Larijani said in an interview at his office over the weekend. "I think it will be resolved in one or two weeks at most and she will be released."
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A senior intelligence official in the Iranian government, also interviewed by FOX News over the weekend about her case, declined to comment, saying it was classified.
Esfandiari, the director of Wilson Center's Middle East program, has been held at Tehran's notorious Evin prison since May 8 on charges that she was seeking to topple the government of the Islamic Republic.
Esfandiari was in Tehran visiting her 93-year-old mother when she was robbed at knifepoint of her passport and other belongings by three masked men. When she later attempted to apply for a new passport, she was subjected to weeks of interrogation by officials with the intelligence ministry.
On May 8, she was arrested and incarcerated in Evin prison. No one has seen her since, and she has been allowed only about a dozen short telephone calls to her mother, according to the Wilson Center. Esfandiari's family has hired Shirin Ebadi, Iran's first Nobel Peace Laureate and a human rights activist, to represent her.
"What we have not been able to do is get anybody in to see her — the Red Cross, the Swiss government that represents our interests, or any other group — so we don't really know what the status of her well-being is," Lee Hamilton, director of the Wilson Center, told FOX News' James Rosen.
Noting the comments by Larijani to FOX News, Hamilton called it "the first indication that there may be light at the end of the tunnel here. We have had unrelentingly bad news about Haleh's condition and whereabouts, so this gives us some hope that eventually, sooner we hope rather than later, she will be freed."
Esfandiari's detention, along with that of three other Iranian-Americans in recent weeks, has generated the latest in a series of rows between the United States and Iran. President Bush has called for their immediate and unconditional release, saying the four were more interested in building bridges between Americans and Iranians than subverting the regime in Tehran.
"Their presence in Iran — to visit their parents or to conduct humanitarian work — poses no threat," Bush said in a statement earlier this month. "Indeed, their activities are typical of the abiding ties that Iranian-Americans have with their land of origin."
Iran acknowledges holding a total of four Iranian-Americans on similar charges, including Esfandiari; Ali Shakeri, a board member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant with the Open Society Institute; and Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the American-financed Radio Farda. All are accused of collaborating with the United States and endangering Iran's national security, though the exact charges against Shakeri have not been divulged.
Larijani, who is the brother of Ali Larijani — the country's chief nuclear negotiator and head of the country's High Council of National Security — said Esfandiari and the other activists were part of a Bush administration offensive to change the regime in Iran. He called such efforts "offensive" and said that while the government had nothing to fear from such efforts, the state's security apparatus was taking no chances.
"Iran has a strong government," Larijani told FOX News. "Why do we need to hold her? She is not a danger to Iran."
John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Vatican correspondent and Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books, including "Pope John Paul II : Biography."