Whose money is freeing the American hikers?

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Shortly, if all goes well, the top story of the day will be the release of two American hikers from an Iranian prison.

Shortly thereafter, if things go the way they did when the first hiker was released last year, the question of who paid the ransom — “bail” as Iran calls it — will go unanswered after an official denial.

Iran is requiring two $500,000 payments for the release of Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Fattal, an Onamia native. It’s the same amount it received for the release last year of Sarah Shourd.

Who paid the cash then? The Sultan of Oman, according to The Australian newspaper.

For Sultan Qaboos – who enjoys good relations with Iran and the West – it was a “win-win” situation, said Ray Takeyh, an Iran analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

He helped to resolve a dilemma for the Administration, which has imposed sanctions against Iran and state-owned entities like Bank Melli. “The US doesn’t want to be in a position where it is seen as ransoming hostages and encouraging more such activity, but there was an imperative to get [Ms Shourd] out,” Mr Takeyh said.

He also helped President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who wanted the ailing American freed to improve his image before he addresses the UN General Assembly next week.

For the ruler of an oil-rich state such as Oman, $500,000 would be a small price to pay for such goodwill, especially at a time when the Sultanate is seeking a free trade agreement with the US.

The families apparently don’t have the money for the ransom. And the U.S. insists it did not pay the cash in Shourd’s release.

The prime minister of Pakistan handles Iran’s interests in the U.S. He reportedly has been in Iran for the last few days, but there’s no indication he’s working on the deal, nor carrying the money, the Associated Press says.

  • matt
  • Jim Shapiro

    That’s a pretty expensive hiking trip. And to think that for $7.95, Josh could have bought a not only accurate, but laminated map!

  • Charles Burke

    CIA or Mossad? I think they must e CIA, because they seem too stupid to be Mossad.