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Iran Mulls Family Visits for U.S. Hikers

Iranian authorities are considering a request by the families of three detained American hikers to visit them in prison, Iran's top human rights official said Tuesday.

Mohammad Javad Larijani - the secretary general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights and a member of one of the country's most influential families - said his office has recommended that the request be granted.

"We are working on that with the security people and judges," he told reporters in Geneva. "We have recommended that the families should be able to see them, and I hope that this will be done."

Larijani said the Swiss ambassador in Tehran made the request to his office "about 2-3 weeks ago." Switzerland has represented U.S. consular interests in Iran since Washington and Tehran broke off diplomatic relations following the Islamic revolution three decades ago.

Swiss Foreign Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Larijani's comment came at a time of tense relations between Iran and the United States regarding Tehran's nuclear program and its crackdown on public opposition to the nation's disputed presidential election in June.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Islamic republic is becoming a military dictatorship, leading Iran's foreign minister to say that was a good characterization of the United States and its government.

The families of the three detained Americans - Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal - say they were hiking in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region in July when they accidentally crossed the border into Iran.

Iran's foreign minister said in late December that the three would be tried in court, but he did not say when that would happen or what the three would be charged with, other than to say they had "suspicious aims."

Earlier, the country's chief prosecutor said they were accused of spying.

Swiss diplomats last saw the hikers at the end of October, but have not been able to visit them since.

Still, Larijani said the hikers had "full access with the Swiss Embassy and there were several meetings with them."

Larijani said it was "quite possible" that the Americans had strayed into Iran by mistake, but that "the security people want to be sure this is true" because the area they were in was known for "terrorist activities."

"We should assume that they are innocent," he added.
By Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans

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