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Ahmadinejad Says He's Hopeful On Detainees In Iran

An undated file photo of Shane Bauer (left) and Sarah Shourd

An undated file photo of Shane Bauer (left) and Sarah Shourd

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said today he was hopeful that the cases of Americans detained in Iran and of Iranians held in the United States would be resolved and that they would be freed.

Ahmadinejad, asked about three U.S. citizens detained last year in Iran and accused of spying, said they had crossed the border illegally and that the judiciary would examine their cases based on the law.

He also said there were Iranians held by the United States.

"We are hopeful all these issues will be resolved. We are not happy to see people in jail anywhere in the world...We are hopeful these problems will be settled, [that] both Iranians and Americans would be freed," he said.

Earlier this month, Ahmadinejad said the three Americans may be swapped with jailed Iranians in the United States. But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there were no talks between the United States and Iran on a prisoner exchange.

Iran said last year it believed 11 Iranians were being held in the United States, including a missing nuclear scientist and a former deputy defense minister who disappeared in 2007.

The three Americans 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.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary-general of the Iranian High Council for Human Rights, told journalists in Geneva he had recommended that three be allowed to receive family visits.

"I hope it will be done," said Larijani, a day after addressing the United Nations' Human Rights Council.

The hikers' claim they had gotten lost was "quite possible," he said, adding: "Iran security people want to be sure they are not after something."

Last 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.

The United States, which cut diplomatic ties with Iran shortly after its 1979 Islamic Revolution, says the charges are totally unfounded and the hikers should be released. Under Iran's Islamic law, espionage can be punishable by death.

The two countries are now embroiled in a row over Iran's nuclear programme, which the West suspects is aimed at making bombs. Tehran denies this.