Ahmadinejad Says Prisoner Exchange Possible for Detained Alumni

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview with Iranian state television Tuesday that he would consider releasing three UC Berkeley alumni detained since July 31 in exchange for the release of Iranians he said were being held by the United States, the Associated Press reported.

Ahmadinejad first suggested an exchange last September during an interview with NBC's The Today Show. Andy Laney, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, said at the time that such a proposal would violate international law.

Though Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that talks were under way to negotiate an exchange, National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said no talks have been conducted with Iran regarding a possible exchange, the Associated Press reported.

"If President Ahmadinejad's comments suggest that they are prepared to resolve these cases, we would welcome that step," Hammer said. "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 U.S. custody, we are prepared to answer them."

Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd were detained by Iranian authorities on July 31 and charged with espionage Nov. 9 after allegedly crossing the border from Iraq. The trio are facing trial for allegations of espionage, according to Iranian government officials.

UCLA Director of Iranian Studies Hossein Ziai said the alumni could easily have unintentionally crossed the unmarked border between Iraq and Iran. Exchanging Iranians held in U.S. custody who have been convicted of crimes for the alumni would be an unlikely swap, he said.

"The people that the Iranians are referring to are criminals who have been tried in U.S. courts and have been sentenced," he said. "These three made an honest mistake in hiking ... they are not criminals to be swapped with a bunch of criminals."

He added that it would be hard to predict how the Iranian government will ultimately deal with the alumni.

"We are not dealing with a rational regime," he said. "Four or five days ago they hanged two young people ... on the charges that these people had been on the streets demonstrating for the downfall of the Islamic Republic. These two people had in fact been in prison prior to the (June) elections."

Contact Tomer Ovadia and Zach E.J. Williams at [email protected]

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