TEHRAN — Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday proposed a swap of Iranians in U.S. prisons for three American hikers being held in Tehran.
Ahmadinejad said in interview with state TV that there were ongoing negotiations about 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 will be released.”
Ahmadinejad did not mention any specifics 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 into Iran, their families have said.
Samantha Topping, a New York City-based spokeswoman for the three families, said they had no comment on Ahmadinejad’s remarks.
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 have said that’s ludicrous and last month hired an Iranian attorney to press the case.
Ahmadinejad said there were “indications they knew they were crossing into Iran.”
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.