American hikers jailed in Iran may be bargaining chip

Posted By: Selma Al-Faqih on May 23, 2010 4:49 pm

The three Cal Berkeley graduates, Sarah Shourd, 31, Shane Bauer, 27, and Josh Fattal, 27, who were arrested along the Iraqi border 10 months ago may now be a bargaining chip for an Iranian prisoner exchange.

Iran allowed the mothers of the three arrested hikers to visit their children last week.  The mothers were hoping to make a plea for their children, and take them home.  That didn’t happen.  On Sunday, Iranian Intelligence Minister Haidar Moslehi said the three Americans’ “status as spies is a clear and obvious case,” according to state TV.  Iran has accused them of espionage after they crossed the border while hiking in the largely peaceful mountainous Kurdish region.  The hikers families maintain that if they crossed the border, it was accidental.

Both the Americans and the Iranians consider allowing their mothers to visit a ‘humanitarian gesture.’  Moslehi said if the US makes a humanitarian gesture toward the Iranian prisoners it holds, Iran might be open to a prisoner exchange.

Iran has accused the three hikers of espionage and entering the country illegally; their families say they were hiking in Iraq’s largely peaceful mountainous northern Kurdish region and that if they crossed the border, it was accidental.

Moslehi offered, “Our expectation is that the U.S., which has a claim on human rights issues, could make a similar human rights gesture to us, then we may get to the stage of whether or not there would be a swap”

Iran has repeatedly accused the U.S. of abducting some 10 Iranians abroad and sentencing them to prison terms, as reported by  the AP.

On Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that the U.S. is “not contemplating any kind of a prisoner swap… if Iran has questions about any of its citizens and whether we have any information as to their whereabouts, we would be more than happy to receive that diplomatic note and respond to it.”