AFP: The United States on Wednesday dismissed the idea of a prisoner swap with Iran, saying Americans held there should be freed immediately and cannot be equated with Iranians convicted in US courts. WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States on Wednesday dismissed the idea of a prisoner swap with Iran, saying Americans held there should be freed immediately and cannot be equated with Iranians convicted in US courts.
In a state television interview, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that talks about exchanging prisoners with Washington were under way, when he was asked about the fate of three American hikers detained in Iran.
The State Department reacted Wednesday by dismissing the idea of a swap — an even stronger stand than the White House took on Tuesday when it denied any such talks had taken place.
"We're not interested in a swap per se," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.
"We are interested in resolving the cases of our citizens," he said, repeating calls for the immediate release of three hikers detained six months ago.
Iran is holding a number of US citizens in custody, including three American hikers — Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer — arrested on July 31 after wandering over the Iraq border into Iranian territory.
Crowley recalled that Washington also wants the release of US citizens Reza Taghavi and Kian Tajbakhsh, and remains concerned about the fate of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing during a visit to Iran in 2007.
"There's not really an equivalence, if you will, between, say, an Iranian citizen who has been indicted and or convicted of arms trafficking, in violation of… international law, and three hikers who wandered across an unmarked border," Crowley said.
But he repeated the US stand that Washington remained open to questions from Tehran about Iranians held in the United States.
"To the extent that Iran has questions about Iranian citizens in US custody, we would remain… willing to entertain those questions and facilitate consular access, if that's what Iran desires," Crowley said.
Iran alleges that 11 Iranians are "illegally" detained in the United States, including nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who went missing in Saudi Arabia while on pilgrimage to Mecca last year.
Crowley said he did not know how many Iranians were in US custody.
In a case unveiled for the first time on December 2 last year, US prosecutors said an Iranian man, Amir Ardebili, pleaded guilty in May 2008 to 14 counts of violating US arms control rules.
Court documents obtained two weeks later by AFP showed he had been sentenced to five years in prison for trafficking weapons to Tehran.
Prosecutors said Ardebili was apprehended in an unnamed Central Asian country in October 2007 and extradited to United States, where he had been secretly detained since January 2008.
The State Department said an Iranian government representative could visit him.