By Bridget Johnson - 08/10/09 03:59 PM EDT
U.S. officials still held out for "official confirmation" that Iran is holding three American hikers, while denying that Iraq asked the Islamic Republic for their release at the behest of the State Department.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said Monday that the confirmation of the hikers' detention hadn't been communicated to Swiss diplomats who represent U.S. interests in Iran, so consular access hadn't been gained to the trio yet.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Sunday that Iraq had "made an intervention on [the hikers'] behalf with the Iranian government to provide information and to release them."
"I am hopeful, but I haven't received any formal confirmation," said Zebari, who met with the Iranian ambassador to Iraq last week.
Wood denied that such contact was made at the behest of the State Department.
National Security Adviser James Jones said Sunday that the U.S. had finally received confirmation of the trio's detention more than a week after the Americans' disappearance.
"The government has officially acknowledged that they have them in their custody. As of this morning, we do have that confirmation,” Jones said on NBC’s “Meet the Press."
When asked about Jones's statement, Wood said Monday that "Gen. Jones said basically what I said, that the Iranians have confirmed publicly that they have these people, but that communication has not been made directly to the United States government or through the Swiss intermediary."
Jones also rejected charges made on Iranian TV that the three were spies. "Surely we can say that they came as spies," hardline Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Karim Abedi told Iran's state-run Al-Alam television network last week. "The concerned authorities will decide whether they were spies or not. If it is proven that they were spies, the necessary legal procedures will be sought against them."
“We have sent strong messages that we would like these three young
people released as soon as possible,” Jones said. “These are innocent
people. We want their families reunited.”
But indications that Iran intends to use the hikers as political pawns grew. Mohammad Karamirad, a member of the Iranian parliament's Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency on Monday that the Americans' illegal entry and recent election protests must be linked.
"Their illegal entry cannot be altogether unrelated to the post-election unrest ... What mission were the three pursuing in Iran? Why did they not apply for Iran visas?" Karamirad said. "In the most optimistic scenario, we think that the three had plans to interfere in Iran's internal affairs."
According to the Kurdistan Regional Government's investigation, on July 28 the Americans entered the Kurdish region in Iraq through Turkey and then traveled to the city of Suleimaniah.
On July 30 at 6 p.m., three of the four Americans — Shane Bauer, Sara Shourd and Josh Fattal — decided to go by themselves by taxi to Ahmedawa resort near the poorly marked Iranian border.
Iran lashed out at Washington on Monday for calling the proceedings against those accused in the post-election protests "show trials."
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said the criticism was "illegal and surprising."
At one of the trials, one of the accused reportedly claimed that U.S. intelligence agencies were behind the unrest after the June 20 elections. "Infiltrating into the parties that aimed to participate in the election as well as infiltrating into the universities and union guilds were some of the plots that we were due to perform for the U.S. forces and the Council of Kingdom," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted the defendant, Mohammad Reza Zamani, as saying. "We received funds from the U.S. and the office of the Council of Kingdom to continue our work and to make a living."
The news agency said "Council of the Kingdom" is an "anti-Iranian terrorist group."
The deputy prosecutor-general in Tehran claimed that “the U.S. administration sought to stage a plot named ‘Exchange Project’ in Iran after its agents were arrested by Iranian security forces.”