Iran Charges U.S. Hikers With Espionage

Iran may be using hikers to strong-arm U.S. in nuclear program negotiations

Iranian prosecutors charged three American hikers with espionage Monday, which could only mean that the theocratic government plans to put them on trial.

In what is most likely not a coincidence, the announcement came as the U.S. and Iran are deadlocked in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

Josh Fattal, 27, an Elkins Park native, Shane Bauer, 27, and Sarah Shourd, 31, were detained by Iranian authorities after crossing the northern border of Iraq into Iran July 31. Family members say that they crossed into Iran accidentally, and their reasons for being in Iraq ranged from vacation to work.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who recently met with the families, called for the release of the three last Thursday.

“We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever,'' Clinton told reporters in Berlin. “And 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.”

The most terrifyling aspect of the espionage charges is the fact that the process of Iranian indictment and trial often takes place behind closed doors. The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran and has been relying on Switzerland to act on the Americans’ behalf.

All three are University of California at Berkley graduates. Fattal is a 2000 graduate of Cheltenham High School. Bauer is a freelance journalist and Shourd is Bauer’s girlfriend. A recent video of the three dancing, and Fattal rapping about how hot it is in Iraq, was recently found. Family members say it proves that were simply on a break and having fun.

"As a mother my heart went out to all of them,” Clinton told “I cannot imagine what it would feel like to know that your child was in prison for now 100 days with very little contact between you and them.”

The timing of the announcement raised the possibility that Iran was using the case to pressure the United States amid the negotiations over its nuclear program. This kind of blackmail has seemingly happened, and worked in Iran's favor, before:
In January, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested in Tehran, was convicted of espionage, then released on appeal in May. Two months later, U.S. forces in Iraq freed five Iranians who they had been holding for months.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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