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Reporter Saberi thanks Clinton for pushing Iran

WASHINGTON, May 27 (Reuters) - Freed U.S.-Iranian reporter Roxana Saberi thanked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in person on Wednesday for pressing Iran to release her from a Tehran jail where she was held on charges of spying.

With her parents and Clinton at her side, Saberi said efforts by the top U.S. diplomat and others sustained her during her incarceration at Tehran’s Evin prison until she was released on May 11.

“When I found out that I had the support while I was in prison, I gained a lot of strength and hope. I did not feel so alone any more,” Saberi told reporters at the State Department.

Saberi’s case added to strains in U.S.-Iranian relations at a time when the Obama administration was seeking to reach out to Tehran after more than three decades of mistrust. So far, those efforts have not born fruit.

In March, Clinton’s staff broke with usual diplomatic isolation of Iran at a conference in The Hague and directly passed on a letter to Tehran’s delegation, urging Saberi’s freedom on humanitarian grounds.

The two countries, at loggerheads on a range of issues, do not have direct diplomatic ties and most dealings are done via Swiss intermediaries who represent U.S. interests.

“This was a matter of great concern to our country and certainly to the Obama administration and to me personally. Not only as secretary of state but as a mother,” said Clinton.

The U.S.-born journalist, who had worked for NPR and the BBC, was released after an Iranian appeal court cut her eight-year jail sentence for spying to a suspended two-year term. She had been held in prison for three months.

Saberi, a citizen of both the United States and Iran, was arrested in January for working in the Islamic Republic after her press credentials had expired.

She was later accused of spying for the United States, a charge that can carry the death sentence. The United States called the spying charges baseless.

Saberi declined reporters’ questions over the spying charges or whether she was planning on writing a book about her experiences in jail, where she went on a hunger strike.

Saberi did hail her heritage. Her mother is Japanese and her father of Iranian descent

“I am very proud to be an American. Just as I am proud of my Japanese and Iranian heritage,” she said.

Seated in the same office where Clinton and Saberi met was Robert Barnett, a prominent Washington lawyer and literary agent who has represented both the top U.S. diplomat and her husband former U.S. President Bill Clinton in their respective book deals. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)