TEHRAN (AP) — Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested in a television interview Tuesday that Iran would release three jailed U.S. hikers in exchange for Iranians currently serving in American prisons.
Ahmadinejad said that there were ongoing negotiations about possibly exchanging the hikers for several Iranians jailed for years in the United States.
“There are some talks under way to have an exchange, if it is possible,” he said. “Recently they (the U.S.) have sent messages, we answered to bring them (the Iranians), to bring these people (the hikers). We are hopeful that all prisoners to be released.”
Ahmadinejad did not mention any specific cases but in December Iran released a list of 11 Iranians it says are being held in the U.S. — including a nuclear scientist who disappeared in Saudi Arabia and a former Defense Ministry official who vanished in Turkey. The list also includes an Iranian arrested in Canada on charges of trying to obtain nuclear technology.
“I had said I would help in releasing them, but the attitude of some of U.S. officials damages the job,” said Ahmadinejad. “There are a large number of Iranians in prison in the U.S. They have abducted some of our citizens in other countries.”
Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were hiking in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region in July when they accidentally crossed the border, their families have said.
Iran’s foreign minister said in late December that the three would be tried in court, but he did not say when a trial would begin or what the three would be charged with other than to say they had “suspicious aims.” Earlier, the country’s chief prosecutor said they were accused of spying.
Their families say that’s ludicrous and last month hired an Iranian attorney to press the case.
The last time anyone sympathetic saw the three was at the end of October, when Swiss diplomats were granted a short visit. The U.S. has no diplomatic relationship with Iran and is represented in such matters by the Swiss. At the time, the diplomats said the three were in good health.
Their jailing comes amid continued tension between the U.S. and Iran over that nation’s nuclear program.
When the list of 11 Iranians came out State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it appeared the Iranian government was trying to suggest some kind of equivalence between the hikers and Iranians that had left Iran.
“There really is no equivalence at all,” he said at the time.
Three of the Iranians on the list have been convicted or charged in public court proceedings in the United States. The circumstances surrounding some of the others are more mysterious.
Ali Reza Asgari, a retired general in the elite Revolutionary Guard and a former deputy defense minister, disappeared while on a private trip to Turkey in December 2006.