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Free the Hikers Update

New America Media, News analysis, Mary Ambrose Posted: Feb 04, 2010

On Tuesday there was a small crack of light into the dark plight of the three American hikers being held in Tehran since July. Irans president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seemed to prepared to release them by proposing a swap of Iranians in U.S. prisons for the release of Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, reported APs Nasser Karimi from Tehran.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected any proposal for a swap and said the hikers should be released immediately on humanitarian grounds.

Ahmadinejad had told Iranian state TV that he was hopeful that if the large number of Iranians in prison in the U.S. could be released, then all prisoners will be released" and that talks with the U.S. were under way to have an exchange, if it is possible."

Although the State Department did not immediately deny that any meetings were taking place, Clinton did. The BBC quotes her as saying that "there are no negotiations taking place between the United States and Iran. We believe they should unilaterally release our detained citizens".

There are eleven Iranians are being held in U.S. prisons, though State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley vigorously opposed the suggestion of any kind of equivalence between the hikers and Iranians.

Bauer, Shourd and Fattal were taken into custody last July when they crossed the Iranian border while hiking in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region. In December, Irans foreign minister threatened that they might be charged with spying and would face a court trial.

If these new comments "suggest that Iran is prepared to resolve the cases of the three hikers and others who are in custody, we would welcome that step. It is long overdue, said Crowley according to AP. He did not specifically address the prospects for a swap.

This back and forth came out the same day that the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bishop Desmond Tutu, issued a statement urging for the release of the hikers. This is what the families of the hikers were celebrating on their website www.freethehikers.org. Avoiding any discussion of talks or prisoner swaps, they simply applauded Tutus statement in which he asserts that citizens shouldnt be pawns in geopolitical struggles.

These three young people have been detained in Iran for over six months, and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that they continue to be held because they are Americans and not for any legal reason wrote the South African bishop. I urge the Iranian authorities not to deny them their freedom in order to express their discontent with the United States. Nations have a right to disagree, but their citizens should not be made to pay the price of their differences.

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