Detained US hikers Sarah Shourd (L) and Josh Fattal (2nd-R) sit with their mothers Nora (2nd-L) and Laura (R) during their first meeting since their arrest, in the Iranian capital Tehran on May 20, 2010. The mothers of three US hikers detained for 10 months in Iran called for their release as a "humanitarian gesture" after an emotional reunion with their children, an AFP correspondent said. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
The mothers of three young Americans jailed in Iran for 10 months flew back toward the United States empty-handed Saturday after visiting their children but failing to secure their release.
The three women were on an Emirates airline flight from Dubai expected to land at New York's Kennedy Airport at 3 p.m., a spokeswoman for the families said Saturday.
The detained Americans -- Sarah Shourd, 31; her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27; and their friend Josh Fattal, 27 -- have been held in Iran since July, 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.
The mothers -- Nora Shourd, of Oakland, Calif.; Cindy Hickey, of Pine City, Minn.; and Laura Fattal, of suburban Philadelphia -- had hoped to at least make a face-to-face appeal for their children's release to Iranian leaders.
The Swiss ambassador in Iran told AP Television News there were no negotiations with Iranian officials to free their children. Washington and Tehran broke off diplomatic relations following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and Switzerland handles U.S. interests in Iran.
"The point was that they should see their children. They have seen them quite a lot over the last two days," Ambassador Livia Leu Agosti said late Friday in an interview at the Tehran airport after the mothers left the country. "It was a visit to the children. That was the purpose."
Asked whether there were any positive signs from Iranian authorities, Agosti told APTN: "Well, they were very generous in the time that the allotted the mothers to be with their children. So it was a good gesture."
Among those expected to greet the women in New York was Fattal's older brother, Alex Fattal, on leave from a doctoral program in anthropology at Harvard University so he can help gain the release of the three young Americans.
Iran announced Friday that two of its nationals held in Iraq by U.S. forces for years were freed, raising the possibility that a behind-the-scenes swap was in the offing or that their release was a gesture of goodwill in an attempt to free the Americans.
The Iranians' release "may have some diplomatic effect on this case," the Americans' lawyer, Masoud Shafii, told the AP.
The U.S. has said it is not offering a direct swap, and Iranian officials made no public connection between the freed Iranians and the Americans.
Iran has said it allowed the mothers to visit the Americans as a humanitarian gesture, and state TV gave heavy coverage to the mother's first reunion with their children Thursday. They embraced, kissed and cried, then sat for a lavish meal in the hotel restaurant. It was the first public look at the three young Americans since their detention.
Josh Fattal told reporters, "We hope we're going home soon, maybe with our mothers."
They appeared healthy, wearing jeans and polo-style shirts. Sarah Shourd wore a maroon head scarf. They described their routines behind bars and being allowed books, letters from home, the ability to exercise and the one hour each day they are all together.
They are all graduates of the University of California at Berkeley. The last direct contact with their families had been a five-minute phone call in March.