WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called Iran's allegations of spying against three detained Americans "totally unfounded" and appealed to the Iranian government for their release.
"We consider this a totally unfounded charge. There is no basis for it," Clinton said on December 14.
"The three young people who were detained by the Iranians have absolutely no connection with any kind of action against the Iranian state or government. In fact, they were out hiking and unfortunately -- apparently, allegedly -- walked across an unmarked boundary."
The Americans -- Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27 -- were detained after crossing the border from Iraq on July 31. The three graduates of the University of California at Berkeley had been trekking in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region, their relatives say.
They have been held in Tehran's Evin prison, where Swiss diplomats who represent U.S. interests in Iran have visited them twice.
"We appeal to the Iranian leadership to release these three young people, and free them as soon as possible," Clinton said.'Sentences Will Be Issued'
Her comments came in response to Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki's announcement earlier in the day that the three will be put on trial. He did not say when proceedings would begin.
"The interrogation of three U.S. citizens, who illegally entered Iran with suspicious aims, continues," Mottaki said. "They will be tried by the Iranian judiciary system. Legal sentences will be issued for them."
Iranian officials have said the three are suspected of being spies.
Also on December 14, Clinton reacted to a report in "The Times" of London
that it has obtained documents that show Iran was seeking to test a device used to trigger an explosion in a nuclear bomb.
She declined to comment on intelligence reports but said Tehran's recent statements about its nuclear intentions "should raise deep concern among all people."
"The concerns that we have regarding Iranian intentions with their nuclear program have been heightened already in the last months," she said, "with the disclosure of the concealed facility at Qom [and] with the failure of the Iranians to follow through on the negotiations over their highly enriched uranium for the Tehran research reactor -- which they had agreed in principle to ship out of the country for reprocessing.
"Certainly the recent announcement by their parliament -- that they intend to build 10, 20 more nuclear plants -- should raise deep concerns among all people. "Dual-Track Approach
Obama took office almost one year ago intent on reviving dialogue with Iran over the nature of its nuclear activities.
His administration has pursued a dual-track approach that sought dialogue with the regime while simultaneously making the case to the international community that it should support UN Security Council sanctions if Iran turns out not to be a willing negotiator.
Clinton signaled that the time for talking may be at an end.
"We have pursued, under President Obama's direction, a dual-track approach to Iran," she said. "We have reached out, we have offered the opportunity to engage in meaningful, serious discussions with our Iranian counterparts. We have joined fully in the P5+1 process.
"We've been at the table, but I don't think anyone can doubt that our outreach has produced very little in terms of any kind of positive response from the Iranians."
The documents cited by "The Times" describe plans to test a neutron initiator, a component used to trigger an explosion. Experts in the report said the device's sole purpose is for use in a nuclear bomb.
The newspaper said foreign intelligence agencies think the documents date from 2007 -- four years after U.S. intelligence officials estimated that Iran had stopped work on a nuclear-weapons capability.
Iran insists its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes, but the UN strongly suspects otherwise.