Page last updated at 20:53 GMT, Monday, 10 May 2010 21:53 UK

Iran says families of detained US hikers may visit them

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, Joshua Fattal (file images)

Relatives of three US hikers being held in Iran for entering the country illegally will be allowed to see them in prison, Tehran has said.

Iran's foreign minister said on state TV that the government had ordered its UN mission in New York to issue visas.

Manouchehr Mottaki made the decision on humanitarian grounds, the state broadcaster reported.

Iran has accused Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal of crossing the border illegally and espionage.

The three, who were seized by border guards on 31 July last year, have also been accused of having links to US intelligence.

No date for any visit has yet been set.

The hikers are friends who attended the prestigious University of California, Berkeley.

25 November: Five Britons arrested after their racing yacht strays into Iranian waters. Freed a week later.
Jan 09: US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi arrested and jailed for spying in April, but released a month later after an appeal.
23 March 07: 15 Royal Navy personnel seized by Iranian warships after searching a cargo boat in the Gulf. Held for nearly two weeks.

Their families say they were hiking in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq and that if they crossed the border into Iran they did so unintentionally.

Mr Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, said it was the third time the families had been told they would be granted a visit in recent weeks.

"We're very cautious about our optimism," Ms Hickey was quoted as saying by Associated Press.

Mr Mottaki said in December that the hikers would stand trial, but he did not specify on which charges.

He said on Monday that Iran had made a decision to grant visas before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended a New York nuclear summit this month.

Relatives had tried to see Mr Ahmadinejad to plead their case but were unsuccessful.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on Tehran to free the hikers, and said that any charges would be unfounded.

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