Reuters : U.S. says appalled at Iran handling of U.S. detainees

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

U.S. says appalled at Iran handling of U.S. detainees

By Sue Pleming | July 17, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it was appalled at Tehran's treatment of two detained Iranian-Americans shown on Iranian television and apparently forced to confess to accusations of spying.

Haleh Esfandiari, an academic at the U.S.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the Open Society Institute founded by billionaire investor George Soros, appeared on Monday in a brief clip promoting a program to be shown this week.

"We are outraged that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran would parade two of these American citizens on state-run television on July 16, showing Dr. Esfandiari and Mr. Tajbakhsh apparently reading statements made under duress," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

In the television program, the academics apparently confessed to acting against the Islamic state's national security and spying, allegations their families and employers say are ludicrous.

"The United States is appalled at the mistreatment," added McCormack in a statement.

He urged Iran to immediately free the two academics as well as Ali Shakeri of the University of California at Irvine's Center for Citizens Peacebuilding. A fourth Iranian-American, Parnaz Azima of Radio Farda, has also been prevented from leaving Iran.

"We call upon Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei to treat these people with the respect they deserve, to put an end to any further broadcasts, and to release all Americans currently being held on groundless charges," McCormack said.

Another American, former FBI agent and Florida resident Robert Levinson, went missing while on a trip to Iran in March and has not been heard from since.

Since mid-March, there have been a handful of diplomatic exchanges between Washington and Tehran via the Swiss Embassy in Iran. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Tehran, and Switzerland acts as a go-between.

Iran has said it has no information on Levinson's whereabouts but U.S. officials do not view Iran's response as credible.

"We also call on Iranian authorities to provide the U.S. with information regarding the whereabouts of Robert Levinson," said McCormack.

The two countries are at loggerheads over a range of issues, including Tehran's refusal to give up sensitive nuclear work. In addition the United States accuses Tehran of meddling in the Iraq conflict, and U.S. forces have been holding five Iranians in Iraq since January.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq held rare talks last May with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad to discuss Iraq and both Iranian and Iraqi officials said on Tuesday that another meeting was planned soon.

McCormack refused to confirm the meeting but Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie, told Reuters a date had been agreed on and the meeting would be announced soon. If a meeting did take place, McCormack said it would again be confined to Iraq.

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