Iran Set to Finish Probe and To Charge or Free Detainees

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Iran will complete its investigation of the Americans imprisoned or detained in Tehran this week and decide whether to try them for "crimes against national security" or free them, the spokesman for Iran's judiciary said yesterday.

Alireza Jamshidi told a news conference that Iran's prosecutor for security affairs expects to issue "judicial orders" in the cases of Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari, New York social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh and California businessman Ali Shakeri in the next two or three days.

All have been held in Tehran's Evin Prison since early May. A fourth American facing similar charges, Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda, is out on bond. All are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens. A fifth unidentified American is also being detained.

In a sign of the strain between the two nations over the detention of their nationals, Iran warned the United States yesterday that it would "regret" detaining five Iranians last January in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. The five were picked up in a U.S. military raid on Iran's liaison office.

"We will make the Americans regret their ugly and illegal act," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, according to the state-controlled IRNA news agency.

The five Iranians are members of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, which has been active in arming and training Iraqi militants. Their status is due for review by the United States later this month, U.S. officials said.

Esfandiari's husband, George Mason University historian Shaul Bakhash, welcomed movement in the case but expressed concern that his wife still has not been allowed to meet with her lawyers.

Esfandiari, who runs the Middle East Program at the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was in Tehran visiting her 93-year-old mother. She was under house arrest for more than four months before being detained at the notorious prison May 8.

Tajbakhsh, who works for the New York-based Open Society Institute, has been detained since May 11. Shakeri, who has lived in the United States since the 1970s, disappeared from Tehran's international airport on May 8 as he was preparing to return to the United States after his mother died in Tehran.

In a sign that the ordeal could drag on, Jamshidi, the Iranian judiciary spokesman, said that a family member may be able to visit Esfandiari next week. Esfandiari's mother has been turned away from the prison several times.

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