WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House denied it had held “any discussion” with Iran about a possible prisoner swap, refuting an earlier claim by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“We have not entered into any discussion with Iran about an exchange,” National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer told AFP.
In an interview on state television Tuesday, Ahmadinejad said that talks about exchanging prisoners with the United States were underway when he was asked about the fate of three American hikers detained in Iran.
“They have arrested our citizens for nothing… this is very bad… now there are talks whether it is possible to do an exchange” of prisoners, Iran’s leader said.
But Hammer denied talks were underway, and he and other US officials said reports of Ahmadinejad’s comments were “fragmentary.”
“We have made clear that we would like the cases of all our missing and detained American citizens to be resolved,” he said. “If president Ahmadinejad’s comments suggest that they are prepared to resolve these cases, we would welcome that step.”
“But we have not entered into any discussion with Iran about an exchange. As we have indicated publicly, if Iran has questions about its citizens in US custody, we are prepared to answer them.”
Iran is holding a number of US citizens in custody, including three American hikers — Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer — arrested after wandering over the Iraq border into Iranian territory.
“We said that we do not like to imprison anybody. Now they have given some messages and we replied that we bring these (three Americans) and they bring them (Iranians held in US prisons) and let us see what happens,” Ahmadinejad told Iranian state television.
The State Department repeated longstanding US requests for access to the three Americans after the Iranian leader’s remarks.
“It’s hard to know what President Ahmadinejad meant from the fragmentary media reports we’ve seen,” Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman, told AFP after Ahmadinejad said a prison swap could be arranged.
“We’ve made it clear that what we want is consular access to our citizens in Iranian custody,” he added.
“If President Ahmadinejad’s comments suggest the Iranians are prepared to grant us access through the Swiss and resolve the cases of the three hikers and others in custody, we would welcome that step as it’s long overdue,” he said.
Among the 11 Iranians that Tehran alleges are “illegally” detained in the United States is nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri who went missing in Saudi Arabia while on pilgrimage to Mecca last year.
Iranian officials have accused Washington of kidnapping Amiri from Saudi Arabia.
The three American hikers were arrested on July 31 after allegedly straying across the border from Iraq’s Kurdistan region while on a hiking trip.
Two Belgians who spent three months in an Iranian prison last year said after their release last month that the three US national were being held in solitary confinement and that they were deeply concerned about their well-being.