Three American hikers imprisoned in Iran broke the law by violating the border and deserved to be punished, Iran's president said in remarks aired on Friday, but he said he hoped they would be freed soon.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested in an interview broadcast on NBC's "Today" show that release of the three Americans might be linked to the release of Iranian diplomats he said were held by U.S. troops in Iraq.
A leading Iranian lawmaker has suggested the illegal entry may have been related to unrest that erupted after Iran's disputed election in June. The Iranian government has said it will take time to investigate the case.
"I ask you: Five Iranian diplomats for two years now they were imprisoned by U.S. troops," Ahmadinejad said through a translator. "They had not violated the law. They were going about their diplomatic business and life in Arbil in Iraq."
"U.S. troops in Iraq without any documentation arrested them. The U.S. government, is it going to strike a humanitarian posture by releasing them? Will it release them? Of course under an equal condition we are ready to engage in reciprocal action," he added.
It was not immediately clear which diplomats he was referring to. U.S. troops detained five Iranian diplomats -- several of them working in Arbil -- over the past two years, but they were released in July to Iraqi authorities who returned them to Iran.
The five Iranians were arrested at different times over a three-year period. Some were accused by U.S. forces of arming Shi'ite Muslim militias at the height of Iraq's sectarian war, according to Reuters.