Iraq has appealed to Iran for information about the detention of three Americans who crossed the border while hiking in the Kurdish north, the foreign minister said on Saturday.
The request came as the three entered their second week in captivity facing the possibility of an investigation on spying charges despite the insistence of US and Kurdish authorities that they accidentally went astray.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said he raised the issue on Thursday during a meeting with the Iranian ambassador to Iraq.
“He did confirm that they have been arrested for entering the country without proper visas and they are now being interviewed to determine more details,” Zebari said in a telephone interview.
Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi said he would pass the request for more information to his government, Zebari said.
Iranian lawmakers were scheduled to discuss the case yesterday during the weekly meeting of parliament’s foreign policy committee, said Press TV, the English-language Iranian state TV.
“We will discuss the additional information [handed to us] and the details of the case,” said Hossein Sobhaninia, the deputy chair of the commission, in a report on the channel’s Web site.
Iranian border guards detained freelance journalist Shane Bauer, Sara Shourd and Josh Fattal on July 31 while they were hiking near a waterfall on a mountain in Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdish region.
Shon Meckfessel, a companion who had skipped the outing because he was ill, has said the three had set up camp near a place called Ahmed Awa, which is famous for a beautiful waterfall, but later called to tell him they had been detained and urge him to call the US embassy.
A prominent Iranian lawmaker and member of parliament’s National Security Committee, however, has rejected the suggestion the Americans were tourists and said authorities were investigating whether to charge them with espionage.
“Surely we can say that they came as spies,” Mohammad Karim Abedi, a hardline lawmaker said earlier this week on Iran’s state-run Al-Alam TV. “The concerned authorities will decide whether they were spies or not. If it is proven that they were spies, the necessary legal procedures will be sought against them.”
He compared the matter with a case involving British military personnel seized by Iran in March 2007 after Tehran said they had entered Iranian waters from Iraqi territory. The 15 sailors and marines were held for nearly two weeks, and some were paraded on Iranian television to deliver supposed confessions of trespassing.
American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi was convicted of espionage before being released on an appeal in May.
The US State Department has dismissed the spying allegations.
The case is the latest source of friction between the US and Tehran, which are locked in dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.