Iran said it will free one of three Americans jailed for more than a year on Saturday in a clemency to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The Culture Ministry sent a text message to reporters telling them to come to a Tehran hotel to witness the release. It is the same hotel where the three were allowed the only meeting with their mothers since they were detained in July 2009.
"Offering congratulations on Eid al-Fitr," the message said referring to the holiday marking the end of the fasting month. "The release of one of the detained Americans will be at Saturday, 9 a.m. at the Estaghlal hotel." It is common in the Islamic world to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday by showing clemency and releasing prisoners.
It did not say which one would be released. But Sarah Shourd, 31, has told her mother she has serious medical problems.
Shourd's mother said her daughter told her in a telephone call in August that prison officials have denied her requests for medical treatment. The mother said they talked about her daughter's medical problems, including a breast lump and precancerous cervical cells, and her solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin prison.
In Washington, the State Department said it was aware of reports that one of the three would be freed but could not confirm them. The United States has no diplomatic presence in Iran and one department official said there had not yet been any word about a possible release from the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in the country.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the U.S. "would obviously welcome the release of one of the hikers" but stressed that Washington has long been calling for the release of all three on humanitarian grounds.
Ali Reza Shiravi, the head of Iran's foreign media office at the Culture Ministry, confirmed that he had sent the message summoning reports to the hotel.
The high-rise Estaghlal hotel near Evin prison is where the three Americans' mothers were allowed to visit them in May in a highly publicized trip.
The detained Americans _ Shourd; her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27; and their friend Josh Fattal, 27 _ have been held in Iran since July 2009, when they were arrested along the Iraqi border.
Iran has accused them of espionage; their families say that the three were hiking in Iraq's largely peaceful mountainous northern Kurdish region and that if they crossed the border, it was accidental.
Their detention has become entangled in the confrontation between the United States and Iran. Iranian leaders have repeatedly suggested a link between their jailing and that of a number of Iranians by the United States whose release Tehran demands.
Nora Shourd, the mother of Sarah Shourd, said Thursday morning that the U.S.-based families of the hikers had seen the news reports out of Iran but had no idea if they were true or not.
"We don't know anything," Shourd told the AP. "We're trying like crazy to see what we can find out. I hope it's true _ that's all I can say for sure. But I don't know if it is."
Nora Shourd had the last contact with any of the three jailed Americans, when Sarah called her on Aug. 2 and the two spoke for three or four minutes.
Associated Press Writers Patrick Condon in Minneapolis and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.