TEHRAN, Iran – Iran announced Monday that it will try three Americans who were accused of espionage after entering the country illegally during a hiking trip, raising the stakes in a case likely to exacerbate tensions with the United States.
The announcement by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki comes after Iran last week demanded the release of 11 Iranians who it says are being held by the United States – a possible signal that Tehran may be seeking a prisoner exchange. The development also coincides with a stalemate between Iran and Western powers over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The Obama administration has warned Iran that it will face tougher sanctions over its uranium-enrichment activities unless it accepts by Dec. 31 a plan to send the bulk of its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran.
Mottaki did not say when the trial of the three Americans would begin or specify the charges other than to say that the Americans had “entered Iran illegally, with suspicious objectives.” In November, a top prosecutor accused the Americans of spying.
“They will be tried by the Iranian judiciary system, and verdicts will be issued,” Mottaki told a news conference without elaborating. He said the Americans are still being interrogated.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said espionage charges against the three Americans were “totally unfounded.”