- Associated Press - Thursday, January 6, 2011

TEHRAN — Iranian authorities have arrested a 55-year-old American woman — reportedly with a microphone hidden in her teeth — on suspicion of spying, local media reported Thursday.

U.S. officials could not immediately confirm the report. But if true, the woman would be the fourth American that Iran has detained and accused of spying in less than two years.

The state-owned newspaper IRAN said the woman, identified in Farsi as Hal Talaian, had “spying equipment or a microphone” concealed in her teeth when customs authorities detained her in the border town of Nordouz, 370 miles northwest of the capital, Tehran. The report said she arrived in Iran from neighboring Armenia without a visa. The paper did not say when she was detained.

But Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying the woman was taken into custody “about one week ago.” Fars also said she told Iranian border guards that her life would be in danger if they sent her back to Armenia.

In Washington, an official at the State Department said the United States has reached out to the Swiss, who represent American interests in Iran, to look into the reports. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said, “Right now, we can’t even confirm she is an American citizen.”

Armenian authorities had no immediate comment on the reported arrest.

The case, if confirmed, would be only the latest point of confrontation between Iran and the United States.

In July 2009, Tehran detained three Americans — Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal — along the Iraqi border. Initially, Iran accused them of illegally crossing into Iran but later added espionage charges, although authorities have given few details to support the accusations.

The United States has dismissed the spying charges. It says the three are innocent hikers and repeatedly has called for their release. The Americans’ families have said that the three were hiking in Iraq’s largely peaceful mountainous northern Kurdish region and that if they crossed the border at all, they did so unwittingly.

Iranian authorities released Miss Shourd in September on $500,000 bail on compassionate grounds. Her fiance, Mr. Bauer, and their friend, Mr. Fattal, remain in prison and could go on trial next month. They could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Iran has suggested in the past that the Americans in its custody could be traded for Iranians held in the United States, raising concerns that the Americans are to be used as bargaining chips as the two countries face off over issues such as Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

The United States and its allies fear Iran’s civil nuclear program is a cover for the development of atomic weapons. Tehran denies the allegations and says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.


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