June 2, 2007, RFE/RL -- The head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, has defended his country's detention and investigation of several Iranian-Americans.
Iran has detained two Iranian-American scholars, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, as well as peace activist Ali Shakeri.
All three are being held on suspicions of spying or acting against state interests. A fourth, Parnaz Azima -- a reporter with Radio Farda -- has been charged with disseminating propaganda and is free on bail awaiting trial.
Larijani told CNN in an interview today that for Tehran all four were "Iranians before they were Americans."
He said America should stop its criticism and leave their cases up to the Iranian justice system.
U.S. President George W. Bush has condemned Iran's holding of the U.S. citizens and called for their release.
Iran has accused the United States of interfering in its domestic affairs by demanding the release of four Iranian-Americans held in Tehran on charges of harming national security.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters in Tehran Sunday that the detainees are Iranian nationals, and authorities are reviewing their case.
In a statement Friday President Bush called for the four detainees to be freed "immediately and unconditionally."
Mr. Bush said the four peace activist Ali Shakeri, scholars Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, and journalist Parnaz Azima pose no threat to Iran. He noted that they went to Iran either to visit their parents or conduct humanitarian work.
The president also demanded to know the whereabouts of a former FBI agent, Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since early March.
Thursday, the U.S. State Department confirmed that Ali Shakeri is being detained at Tehran's Evin prison. It is not clear if Shakeri has been formally charged.
Academics Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh are also being held in the prison and have been charged with spying.
Journalist Parnaz Azima is also charged with spying, and has been barred from leaving Iran.
Shakeri is an advisory board member at a non-governmental organization, the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California at Irvine.
Esfandiari is the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington-based foundation.
Tajbakhsh is an urban planning consultant linked to the New York-based Open Society Institute. Billionaire businessman George Soros established the institute to promote democracy and human rights.
Azima works for U.S.-funded Radio Farda. Her passport was confiscated, and she has been barred from leaving Iran since January.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
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