Iran said Monday it would try three Americans jailed since crossing the border from Iraq in July, a step certain to aggravate the U.S. at a time when Tehran is locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki did not say when proceedings would begin or specify the charge other than to say the Americans had "suspicious aims." In November, however, authorities accused the Americans of spying.
There are concerns in the U.S. that Iran could use them as bargaining chips in talks over its nuclear program or in seeking the return of Iranians they say are missing.
Relatives and the U.S government say the three were innocent tourists on an adventure hike in northern Iraq and accidentally crossed into Iran, where they were arrested on July 31.
"They will be tried by Iran's judiciary system and verdicts will be issued," Mottaki said at a news conference, without elaborating in detail.
The Americans - Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27 - were detained by Iranian authorities after crossing an unmarked border from northern Iraq. The hikers have family in California, Colorado, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
At a Nov. 9 news conference, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran's judiciary would deal with the Americans, and he noted that Iran accuses the United States of holding several of its citizens.
In particular, he drew a link between the case of the three Americans and the trial in the U.S. of Amir Hossein Ardebili, an Iranian who faces up to 140 years in prison after pleading guilty to plotting to ship sensitive U.S. military technology to Iran.
According to court papers, Ardebili worked as a procurement agent for the Iranian government and acquired thousands of components, including military aircraft parts, night vision devices, communications equipment and Kevlar. U.S. federal authorities targeted him in 2004 after he contacted an undercover storefront set up in Philadelphia to investigate illegal arms trafficking.