TEHRAN — Three Americans who have been detained in Iran for nearly seven weeks “trampled the law, and in accordance with the laws, they need to be punished,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told NBC News.
In an interview Thursday at the Presidential Compound in Tehran, Ahmadinejad told NBC’s Ann Curry that he sympathized with the families of Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, whose mothers asked Ahmadinejad to bring them with him when he arrives in New York next week to address the U.N. General Assembly.
The Iranian Mission to the United Nations did not publicly respond to the request, and Ahmadinejad indicated that he would entertain such entreaties only “under an equal condition” — the release of Iranians who are “in U.S. prisons right now with no good reason,” whom he did not identify.
“I’m not happy that they have been arrested,” Ahmadinejad said of the Americans. “But these individuals had violated our borders.”
Bauer, 27, Shourd, 31, and Fattal, 27, were detained July 31 after they entered northern Iraq. Relatives have said the three accidentally crossed a poorly marked border while on a hiking expedition in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq.
Family: No consular access
Nicole Marie Lindstrom, Bauer’s sister, said Thursday that relatives were in the dark about the detainees’ condition and treatment.
“We have not been granted consular access, so no one has gotten to speak with them,” she said in an interview on NBC’s TODAY show.
Ahmadinejad compared the arrests to the detention of five Iranians by U.S. forces in Arbil, Iraq, in January 2007. The five men, who Iran said were diplomats, were released two months ago as part of a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement.
Video: Mothers: Hikers aren't spies “The U.S. government, did it ever apologize for its wrongful action in Iraq?” Ahmadinejad asked. “By doing so, it would have taken a humanitarian posture.”
Like the detained Americans, “these people have family members, too,” he said. “They have mothers. They have spouses. These are human beings, as well.
“We think that it’s only fair for us to look at all of these together,” he added.
The entire interview is scheduled to air Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.
Ahmadinejad: ‘We don’t need’ nuclear weapons
Ahmadinejad gave the interview a week before he is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly and two weeks before multilateral talks get under way on Iran’s nuclear program, the first involving Iran since a 2008 session in Geneva foundered over its refusal to discuss its research on enriched uranium.
Ahmadinejad rebuffed repeated attempts to say whether he would explicitly rule out developing nuclear weapons, saying only that they were “not a part of our programs and plans” because “we don’t need such a weapon.”
Video: Kin speak out But he was adamant that he would not yield to pressure from the United Nations, the United States and European governments to put an end to what he maintains are peaceful programs, which have aggravated tensions and led to three sets of Security Council sanctions.
“We have always believed in talking, in negotiating — that is our logic. Nothing has changed,” Ahmadinejad said.
But “if you are talking about the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes, this will never be closed down here in Iran,” he said.
Ahmadinejad also defended the legality of his re-election last spring, which was met with days of violence in the streets.
“The law prevails,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. “I don’t see any problems.”
By Alex Johnson of msnbc.com with Ann Curry of NBC News in Tehran, Iran.