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Ahmadinejad Says Jailed Hikers Could Be Swapped

Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers being held in Iran

Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers being held in Iran

TEHRAN (Reuters) - President Mahmud Ahmadinejad says that three U.S. citizens detained in Iran and charged with spying may be swapped with jailed Iranians in the United States.

"We do not like to have any person in jail. Some discussions are going on to swap the three with jailed Iranians in America," Ahmadinejad told state television. He did not clarify whether the discussions were held with U.S. officials.

The three were detained after they strayed into Iran from northern Iraq at the end of July, further complicating relations between Tehran and Washington that were already deadlocked over Iran's nuclear program.

Iran has said that the three Americans would be put on trial, without giving a date.

The United States says the charges are totally unfounded and the hikers should be released.

In November, Iran's judiciary announced espionage charges against the three -- Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27. Their families said they were hiking and had strayed across the border accidentally.

Under Iran's Islamic law, espionage can be punishable by death.

The case comes at a time of high tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear plans and after Iranian officials accused foreign nations of fuelling unrest following a disputed presidential election last year.

The United States cut diplomatic ties with Tehran shortly after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.