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Iran Media Report U.S. May Free Two Iranians In Iraq

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has received word that the United States is ready to release two Iranians held in Iraq, state radio reported on March 2, but a U.S. military spokesman said he had no knowledge of any such action.

U.S. forces in 2007 seized five Iranians in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil on suspicion of arming and funding Shi'ite militias in Iraq. Two of them were freed later the same year.

Iran says they are diplomats and has demanded their release.

The detention of the five Iranians contributed to a rise in tension between Tehran and Washington, which are also embroiled in a row over Iran's disputed nuclear program.

State radio said Iran's ambassador to Baghdad had received a letter from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) saying the U.S. military was ready to free two Iranians, including a former embassy employee in Irbil.

It said the second Iranian was accused of having entered Iraq illegally, without giving more details.

The ICRC letter to Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi "expressed the American forces' readiness to release two Iranian individuals," the radio report said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference: "We hope the Islamic Republic's efforts to secure the release [of the Iranians held in Iraq] will come to fruition and they will return to their families."

Asked about the Iranian media report, Captain Will Powell, a U.S. spokesman for U.S. detainee operations in Iraq, told Reuters in Baghdad: "We are unable to validate this claim. We have not received word that any Iranians are scheduled for release or transfer at this time."

U.S. President Barack Obama last month spoke of possible diplomatic openings with Tehran, marking a break with his predecessor George W. Bush. Iran in turn said it was ready for talks as long as they were "fair."