Bush condemns Iran’s detention of Americans


Washington : US President George W. Bush condemned Iran's detention of at least four American citizens, including a radio correspondent and a top Middle East analyst.

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In a statement Friday, the first from the president since the crisis started some weeks ago, Bush called for the immediate and unconditional release of the four.

"These individuals have dedicated themselves to building bridges between the American and Iranian people, a goal the Iranian regime claims to support," Bush said. "Their presence in Iran – to visit their parents or to conduct humanitarian work – poses no threat."

Earlier this week, Iran charged three of the Americans with espionage and acting against national security. The announcement came a day after Iranian and US diplomats in Baghdad held their first formal talks in nearly 30 years.

The charges, which served as a reminder of deep mistrust between the two sides, were brought against Haleh Esfandiari, Middle East director of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington; Parinaz Azima, a correspondent for a Persian-language radio station owned by Radio Free Europe and funded by the US; and Kian Tajbakhsh, a sociologist.

Another Iranian-US citizen, Ali Shakeri, has reportedly been banned from leaving Iran, but no charges have yet been filed against him.

Esfandiari and Azima reportedly travelled to Iran last year to visit their sick mothers.

Bush also mentioned a fifth American – Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who has been missing from Kish Island in Iran since April.

The US has provided flight information to the Iranians to help them track him down.

"I call on Iran's leaders to tell us what they know about his whereabouts," Bush said.

Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security advisor, said the president was prompted to make the statement after the charges were brought against at least three of the Americans named in his remarks.

The charges "represented an escalation on the part of the Iranians," he said.