U.S. hikers and Iran's maze
Los Angeles Times / Haleh Esfandiari

When Sarah Shourd, one of three Americans arrested and held without formal charges in an Iranian prison for more than a year, was finally released last month, people hoped that her two companions, Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, would soon be released as well. But Iran seldom works in logical ways. Almost from the day the three Americans were arrested while hiking along the Iran-Iraq border in Iraqi Kurdistan, the government has been divided over what to do with them.

The hikers were first accused of illegal entry, and then espionage, a charge Iranian officials toss about freely. Some wanted to try the hikers for spying, despite the absence of evidence. Others, in the Revolutionary Guard and elsewhere, seem to have argued against release because of the fractious relations between Iran and the United States. Still others came to understand the damage this case was doing to Iran and sought its early resolution.

That last group, obviously, did not prevail. A simple incident that could have been settled expeditiously was blown out of proportion, and once again the Iranian government found itself in a quandary of its own making.

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