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Iran Accuses Three Americans Of Spying

Joshua Fattal, one of three Americans being held in Iran, with his mother, Laura Fattal

(RFE/RL) -- Tehran has announced that three Americans it has had in custody since July "have been accused of espionage," according to the state news agency IRNA.

It's not clear whether formal charges have been brought against the three. But the announcement, from chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, seems to indicate that charges are imminent or already have been filed.

Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, were arrested on July 31 after what they said was an accidental straying over the Iranian border from northern Iraq. The U.S. government and their families say the three Americans were on a hiking vacation.

U.S.: Charges 'Outrageous'

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Berlin to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, said the U.S. government strongly believes there is no evidence to support any charges against the three Americans.

"We would renew our request on behalf of these three young people and their families that the Iranian government exercise compassion and release them so they can return home," she said. "We will continue to make that case through our Swiss protecting power, who represents the United States in Tehran."

The White House has not yet had confirmation of the charges from their Swiss representatives. But at the State Department, spokesman Ian Kelly said if the reports are true, the U.S. government "would find this outrageous."

At the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the three "are innocent young people who should be released by the Iranian government. Their release should be expedited."

The families of the three detained Americans issued a statement denying the spying accusations and urging the Iranian government to release them immediately.

Negotiations Under Way

The diplomatic flap is unfolding just as Iran considers whether to accommodate the international community's request to send its low-enriched uranium abroad for processing.

In return, Iran would receive the fuel it needs for its nuclear research reactor, which it uses to pursue cancer treatments.

Russia is among the countries waiting for Iran's answer. Though it has a record of opposing UN sanctions for countries that run afoul of international laws and conventions, Gibbs noted that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently said his government would support sanctions for Iran if it doesn't negotiate constructively about its nuclear program.

"I would point you to what [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev said over the weekend, which was, 'If Iran fails to take steps in its control to demonstrate its responsibility to the world, then sanctions may be necessary,' " Gibbs said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said he and his Russian counterpart have issued a warning to Iran over its disputed nuclear program, saying "the international community's patience is not infinite."

Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev met November 9 on the sidelines of celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall. Sarkozy's office said the two "do not rule out" more sanctions for Iran.

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