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Iran charges three US hikers

Charges against three detained Americans are “totally unfounded”, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after it emerged an Iranian court would try the trio who wandered across the border from Iraq.

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Their apparent misadventure last July propelled them into the middle of a bitter stand-off with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki did not say on Monday when the trial would begin or even what the Americans were charged with, other than that they had “suspicious aims”.

Spy charges

Last month, Iran’s chief prosecutor said they were accused of spying.

“They will be tried by Iran’s judiciary system and verdicts will be issued,” Mottaki told a news conference. He said the three were still being interrogated.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Iranian move was “totally unfounded” and appealed anew to authorities to release the Americans.

“We consider this a totally unfounded charge,” she told reporters. “There is no basis for it. 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,” she said. “We appeal to the Iranian leadership to release these three young people and free them as soon as possible.”

The three, Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, – all graduates of the University of California at Berkeley – had been trekking in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region when they accidentally crossed into Iran, according to their relatives. The trio were arrested on July 31.

Journalist freed

All three families declined to comment on Monday’s announcement.

The case recalls that of American-Iranian journalist Roxanna Saberi, who was arrested in Iran in January and convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison.

She was freed on appeal in May after heavy pressure from the US – and several months later, the US military released five Iranians it had held for more than two years.

The accusations against the three Americans could be a first step in a similar move by Iran to put them on trial and convict them, then arrange their release, aiming to get concessions.