MINNEAPOLIS — 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 talks were under way about possibly exchanging the hikers for Iranians in the United States.
“We are having a kind of talks to have an exchange if it is possible,” he said, explaining that there were several Iranians jailed for years without charges in U.S. prisons.
It was not immediately clear which Iranian prisoners he was referring to and he did not name any specific cases.
“We have said, bring them [the Iranians] and we’ll bring these people [the American hikers] and we are hopeful that all prisoners will be released,” he said in the interview broadcast on state TV.
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.
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.
Their jailing comes amid continued tension between the U.S. and Iran over that nation’s nuclear program.
State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said last week that Iran’s refusal to allow Swiss diplomats to visit the hikers in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison since the end of October is “outrageous” and a violation of international agreements.