|Iranian press reports that if the Americans are freed, they will probably leave with the Omani delegation [AFP]
Iran has offered the first official indication that the Sultanate of Oman is playing a role in trying to secure the release of two American men imprisoned for more than a year.
Tuesday's remarks by foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast come after a newspaper, Jomhuri-e Islami, reported that an Omani delegation was expected to visit Iran and hoped to take the detainees home with it. When asked about the report, Mehmanparast said only that "delegations from various countries travel to Iran."
He noted that such visits were generally signs of friendly relations between neighbours.
He told the AP that he hopes Bauer and Fattal would be able to provide evidence "they had no ill intention in crossing the border" so they can be released but that would be up to the judiciary.
On September 22, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian president, told CNN that while there was "a chance" that the two men may be freed, the decision had to be made by the judiciary and that he had no sway over their cases.
Foreign Ministry officials in Oman could not be reached for comment. Masoud Shafiei, the Iranian lawyer for the Americans, told The Associated Press he was not aware of the Omani visit.
However, the New York Times also reports that the Omani delegation went to Iran on Sunday for the purpose of securing the release of Fattal and Bauer.
Oman helped secure the September 14 release of American Sarah Shourd, who was arrested along with Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal near the Iran-Iraq border. That raised hopes the Gulf sultanate - an ally of both the US and Tehran - could help secure the two men's freedom as well.
The three Americans were arrested near Iran's border with Iraq in July 31, 2009. Their families say they were on a mountain hike in northern Iraq at the time of their arrest.
After being freed, Shourd denied the spy allegations levelled against her and her companions by the Iranian government while expressing gratitude for her release.