Senior Iranian official rules out US hikers exchange

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A senior Iranian official on Friday ruled out an exchange of three American hikers held by Tehran for Iranians detained in the United States, saying that such a swap would not square with his country's legal system.

"The exchange is not something that we advocate," said Mohammad Javad Larijani, who is the secretary-general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights.

"I think our judicial system does not agree with this kind of arrangement. What we can do is try to see that this process is getting the due legal process," he told a small group of journalists in Geneva.

Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, were detained on July 31 last year after crossing Iran's border while on a hiking trip in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region.

Washington says they are innocent and should be released.

However, Tehran public prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi had said the three hikers face espionage charges and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki had said they are accused of illegal entry to the Islamic republic.

Intelligence Minister Heyder Moslehi meanwhile had said in May that Tehran wants the United States to make a humanitarian gesture because it would consider an eventual exchange for of the three hikers.

But Larijani spoke out clearly against an exchange.

"Our approach is let us be fair on both sides rather than swap the people. We don't believe in the legitimacy of this kind of action. But we push for the fair handling of the people," he said.

He added that he is "not praying for these people to be criminals."

"My recommendation is that let us assume that they are innocent and see what are against this assumptions," he said.

The Iranian official said he had no indication on exactly when the case would be heard in court, but added that "it should not be very far from now because anyhow the core investigations (are) getting to the final stage."

"So it cannot continue very long," he added.

© 2010 AFP

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