By Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 4, 2009 12:01 PM
BAGHDAD, Aug. 3 -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that she was "concerned" about three Americans detained in Iran and that the United States had not received any information from Iran about their fate since they crossed into the country from northern Iraq last week.
News reports Tuesday in Iran, meanwhile, said the Americans were under arrest for "illegal entry" and claimed that their case was being used by the U.S. government for propaganda purposes, the Associated Press reported. Iran's state-controlled media noted that at least two of the Americans are journalists, the wire service said, and questioned reports that the trio were hikers who wandered across the border by mistake.
Officials in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region said the group was lost and entered Iran while on an excursion in a mountainous area along the border. They also said that border guards had warned them not to proceed because the border in that area is not clearly marked.
"Obviously, we are concerned," Clinton told reporters at the State Department. "We want this matter brought to a resolution as soon as possible. And we call on the Iranian government to help us determine the whereabouts of the three missing Americans and return them as quickly as possible."
Clinton said that the Swiss ambassador in Iran, who represents American interests there, is seeking information about the three. Tehran and Washington broke off diplomatic ties in 1979.
Kurdish authorities identified the Americans as Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal. The three had called a friend, Shon Meckfessel, who had stayed in a hotel in Sulaymaniyah, the region's second-largest city, because he was feeling sick. They told him that Iranian border guards were surrounding them. They have not been heard from since.
Kurdish officials said the Americans told them they were journalists. Shourd has written for Brave New Traveler, an online travel magazine. On the magazine's Web site, she identifies herself as a "teacher-activist-writer from California currently based in the Middle East." Bauer, of Minnesota, is a Middle East correspondent for New American Media and has written for other publications, including the Nation magazine.
Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey of Pine City, Minn., and Fattal's mother, Laura Fattal of Elkins Park, Pa., both said in brief statements that they were concerned about the group's welfare and safety.
The Kurdish government said that it would soon meet for a second time with Iranian representatives to discuss the fate of the Americans and to seek their release.
Clinton's statement Monday came after the head of the Iranian parliament's foreign policy committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, confirmed the arrest of the Americans on Sunday, according to Iranian television.
Iran's Arabic-language network said in a news bulletin Monday, quoting Iraqi police sources, that the Americans were "CIA agents." The Iranian government, however, did not immediately endorse that claim.