Clinton 'concerned' about hikers, still engaging Iran

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton indicated Monday that efforts to engage Iran would press forward despite the apparent arrest of three American tourists at the border with Iraq's Kurdish region.

"As of a few hours ago, we did not yet have official confirmation that the Iranian Government, or an instrument of the Iranian Government, was holding the three missing Americans," Clinton said when asked about the hikers during remarks after a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

ADVERTISEMENT
"Obviously, we are concerned," Clinton added. "We want this matter brought to a resolution as soon as possible. And we call on the Iranian government to help us determine the whereabouts of the three missing Americans and return them as quickly as possible."

Family members have confirmed that Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal are two of the Americans missing, and media reports have identified the third hiker as Sarah Shourd. A fourth member of the trip didn't go on the hike because he wasn't feeling well.

The Kurdish provinces began aggressively marketing the region as a business and tourist destination a few years ago, and the notably safe area is a draw for its picturesque mountains. The owner of a hotel where the Americans stayed told CNN that he'd warned the group, though, not to hike up to Ahmed Awa because of its close proximity to the Iran border. Kurdish police at the border town also reportedly warned the hikers to steer clear of the unmarked border.

Iran's state-run Al-Alam television network reported that security forces detained the three Americans on Friday for illegally crossing the border. The hikers also reportedly phoned their friend back at the hotel to say that they had been surrounded by Iranian forces.

Press TV, a Tehran-based news channel funded by the Iranian government, claimed in a Sunday story that a Kurdish police official had linked the trio to the CIA.

Also on Sunday, without offering any more details, the head of the Iranian Parliament's foreign policy committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said, "This case is currently on its natural course."

The incident comes just as the U.S. and Iran cleared another diplomatic hurdle with the May release of North Dakota native Roxana Saberi from prison in Tehran. Saberi had been accused of spying, and Iran eventually reduced her eight-year prison term to a suspended sentence.

ADVERTISEMENT
The incident also comes as the U.S. and its partners are hoping for a response to diplomatic overtures to Iran in time for the G20 summit in Pittsburgh and the opening of the U.N. General Assembly next month.

And despite another crisis in the vein of the Saberi incident looming, Clinton appeared determined Monday to press forward with engagement.

"We’ve made it very clear that we wish to engage with the Iranians in accordance with President Obama’s policy to discuss a broad range of issues," Clinton said. "That would be a bilateral channel, which we have communicated to the Iranians."

She said Iran had not responded to an incentive package presented to Iran by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.

Clinton added that she conferred Monday morning with diplomats from other countries about the push to deal with Iran's budding nuclear program.

"We’re not prepared to talk about any specific steps, but I have said repeatedly that in the absence of some positive response from the Iranian government, the international community will consult about next steps, and certainly next steps can include certain sanctions," Clinton said.