updated 9/30/2004 7:58:28 PM ET 2004-09-30T23:58:28

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday he expects U.S. and Saudi authorities will be able to resolve differences that have delayed the release to Saudi custody of a U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan.

Yaser Esam Hamdi was allowed by U.S. officials to call his mother and father in Saudi Arabia for the first time Thursday while still being held at a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina, his attorney, Frank Dunham Jr., told The Associated Press. Hamdi also was allowed to call Dunham for the first time, although the attorney declined to say what they discussed.

Hamdi, as he waits for a flight home, also is now wearing civilian clothes and is allowed to watch television, “which before was a no-no,” Dunham said.

“He’s doing a lot better now that he can talk to his folks for the first time in three years. How would you feel if you couldn’t talk to your parents for three years?” Dunham said. “His spirits were excellent, greatly improved with the way he’s been treated.”

Dunham said he has not been told why there is a delay. He said he believes the earliest Hamdi now could travel is Sunday.

U.S. officials said Thursday that there was a snag in discussions with Saudi authorities over the release of the man, Yaser Esam Hamdi, who has been detained since 2001 as an enemy combatant.

Powell, speaking to reporters after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, said U.S. immigration and other officials were conferring with the Saudis.

“I’m not in a position to explain the Saudi position to you right now,” Powell said. “But we’re working, and I think we’ll eventually work our way through it.”

Release originally scheduled for Tuesday
Hamdi, who grew up in Saudi Arabia, had been scheduled to be released Tuesday and sent there. His case led to a Supreme Court decision limiting President Bush’s powers to indefinitely hold so-called wartime combatants without trial or charges.

Under terms of an agreement with federal officials that was made public Monday, Hamdi would not be charged with any crime. However, the agreement — which said the United States would transport Hamdi in civilian clothes to Saudi Arabia no later than Thursday — also said he would not be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia for five years and could not return to the United States for a decade.

He also was required to renounce his U.S. citizenship and not participate in any terrorist activity, the agreement stated. A senior Justice Department official said the State Department was handling the negotiations with the Saudis over his return.

But the Saudi government has called the deal “unenforceable” and said Hamdi should be set free without conditions because he never broke a law.

“If he’s guilty of something, we don’t believe the U.S. government would let him go,” Nail al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy, told CNN in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “It is an issue of fairness.” Al-Jubeir said the Saudi government had not been a party to the deal and thus could not enforce it.

‘If he has not committed a crime ...’
“If he has not committed a crime ... why are the conditions in place?” he asked.

In a interview later with The Associated Press, al-Jubeir said, “There are no charges against him that we are aware of,” adding, “We don’t believe the United States would release someone” if there were charges against him.

Hamdi’s attorney, Frank Dunham, said Wednesday in reference to the agreement’s conditions: “In my opinion, the only thing that enforces them is Mr. Hamdi’s integrity. I think that he will do it. He’s an honorable person who will honor the agreement.”

The Navy said in a statement Thursday that for security reasons it would not comment on the movement of any detainee, including Hamdi, until after the transfer was completed. “When Hamdi’s transfer is appropriately coordinated, we will make all efforts to move him to the control of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico said in the statement.

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