TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) -Iran on Sunday accused President Bush of intervening in the Islamic Republic’s internal affairs days after the American leader demanded that Tehran release four Iranian-Americans detained for alleged espionage.
“Such expression is an obvious case of intervention in our domestic affairs,” said Mohammad Ali Hosseini, spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, during a weekly news briefing. “They are Iranian nationals, and authorities are reviewing their case. They are in the investigations process.”
On Friday, Bush demanded that Iran “immediately and unconditionally” release the four Iranian-Americans and provide information about a former FBI agent missing in the country.
The demand came as Iran in recent weeks has escalated accusations against the U.S., saying it had uncovered spy rings organized by the U.S. and its Western allies.
The United States has denied that the four are spies or employees of the U.S. government. The State Department on Thursday warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Iran, accusing Iranian authorities of a “disturbing pattern” of harassment of Iranian-Americans.
The four detained scholars and activists are Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars; Kian Tajbakhsh with George Soros’ Open Society Institute; journalist Parnaz Azima from the U.S.-funded Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a peace activist and founding board member at the University of California, Irvine, Center for Citizen Peace building.
Bush’s statement also said he was “disturbed” by the fact that Iran has not provided any information about the welfare and whereabouts of former FBI agent Robert Levinson who went missing in Iran while on private business there in March.
Esfandiari and her organization have been accused by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry of trying to set up networks of Iranians to start a revolution to bring down the hardline regime. The ministry alleges that the Open Society Institute, which seeks to promote democracy worldwide, was also part of the conspiracy.
Esfandiari’s husband, Shaul Bakhash, the Wilson Center and the Open Society Institute all deny the allegations.
Esfandiari, 67, had been trapped in Iran since visiting her 93-year-old mother in December, when three masked men with knives stole her luggage and passport as she headed to the airport to leave, the Wilson Center said. In the weeks before her arrest, she was called in for questioning daily, it said.