Iran Denies Plan to Swap Jailed Hikers

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Iran has no plans to swap three Americans jailed in Tehran for an Iranian nuclear scientist it says is being held in the Unites States, an Iranian official said Tuesday.

    Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said it's not Iran's practice to "exchange people whose cases are still with the judiciary" and dismissed suggestions that the fate of the three Americans is linked to that of scientist Sharam Amiri.

    "These two cases are not comparable," Mehmanparst told reporters in Tehran. "Iran will use legal channels to secure the release of Amiri."

    Iran claims the scientist, who disappeared while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, was abducted by the U.S. in 2009.

    The three Americans -- Sarah Shourd, her boyfriend, Shane Bauer of Minnesota, and their friend Josh Fattal -- were arrested along the Iraqi border last July. Iran has accused them of espionage and entering the country illegally. Their families say the three were hiking in Iraq's largely peaceful mountainous northern Kurdish region and that if they crossed the border, it was accidental.

    Iran allowed the mothers of the three to visit them in May, the families' first contact with them since they were taken into Iranian custody. The mothers had hoped to secure their children's' release, but returned empty-handed to the United States after a two-day visit.

    Also in May, Iran's intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi signaled Tehran might be open to a prisoner swap with the U.S. for the three Americans. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had also mentioned a swap in March, but nothing was officially proposed.

    Before Amiri disappeared, he worked at Iran's Malek Ashtar University, an institution closely connected to the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard. U.S. media reported in March that Amiri had defected to the United States and was assisting the CIA in efforts to undermine Iran's nuclear program.

    Mehmanparast's remarks came after Iran's state TV on Monday showed a video of a man it identified as Amiri. The footage showed him wearing headphones and speaking through what appeared to be a webcam, saying he was abducted while on a pilgrimage to Medina, injected with a tranquilizer and taken to the United States.

    The man in the footage was shown next to a photograph of Amiri and bore a close resemblance. He said the video was recorded on April 5 in Tucson, Arizona, and that he has been tortured while in the U.S.

    A U.S. official dismissed the Iranian claim, saying it was false.

    Apart from the visit by their mothers, Swiss diplomats in Tehran have also met with the three Americans. Switzerland looks after U.S interests in Iran since Washington and Tehran have no diplomatic ties.