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Security Forces Crack Down on Defiant Protesters in Iran

Thousands of protesters streamed down avenues of the capital Thursday, chanting "death to the dictator" and defying security forces who fired tear gas and charged with batons, witnesses said. Video by AP

Meanwhile, the U.S. military on Thursday released five Iranian officials who were detained in January 2007 in northern Iraq on suspicion of aiding Iraqi Shiite insurgents, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Iranian officials said.

"We have no information yet about their physical or psychological condition or where they were kept the past two years," said Amir Arshadi, a spokesman for the Iranian Embassy. "We are still waiting for them."

The U.S. military had no comment.

Iranian leaders have repeatedly demanded the release of the officials, calling their detention a kidnapping that violated diplomatic protocols. At the time of their arrest, U.S. authorities said the men included the operations chief and other members of Iran's elite Quds Force, which was accused of arming and training Iraqi insurgents. Officials in Washington and Baghdad maintained that the men had no diplomatic status.

The surprise release came a day after unusually positive comments about President Obama by a top adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said Obama had tried to remain silent on the country's election outcome.

The comments suggest that Iran's decision makers are still interested in discussing possible diplomatic relations with the Obama administration. "America accepts a nuclear Iran, but Britain and France cannot stand a nuclear Iran," Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister, said in an interview on state television on Wednesday.

Correspondent Anthony Shadid and special correspondents Qais Mizher and Zaid Sabah in Baghdad and Kay Armin Serjoie in Tehran contributed to this report.

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