The U.S. State Department said Friday that three American hikers being held in Iran are victims of an ongoing dispute between the two countries over Iran's nuclear program.
Department spokesman P.J. Crowley acknowledged that Minnesota native Shane Bauer, his fiancee Sarah Shourd and their friend Josh Fattal's situation might be different if the two countries had better relations.
"They're victims of this nuclear game between the United States and Iran," Crowley told MPR's All Things Considered. "The fact that we don't have diplomatic relations -- we have probably myths on both sides of what is happening in each country -- that has resulted in the kind of paralysis we are seeing in the case of the three hikers."
One year ago, Bauer, Shourd and Fattal were hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan when they apparently crossed the border into Iran and were arrested. Iran has accused the three of spying, but their families and the U.S. government insist they were on an innocent hike.
The hikers' mothers were allowed to briefly visit their children in May, but Bauer, his fiancee Sarah Shourd and friend Josh Fattal have had limited access to Swiss diplomats and an attorney. They have not been formally charged with any crimes.
Crowley said the State Department shares the hikers' families' concerns about their physical and mental health.
"We are doing everything we can, obviously within the relations we have with Iran, to make sure they can come home," he said.
That includes having top U.S. officials talk about the hikers' plight when crossing paths with Iranian diplomats at the United Nations, he said.
"Anytime we are in the same room with Iranian officials we find a way to communicate with them about this particular case," Crowley said.
Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey of Pine City, and the mothers of Fattal and Shourd led a protest in New York City on Friday to urge Iran to free their children.
Demonstrations were also planned throughout the weekend in various cities, including St. Paul.
Also Friday, Minnesota's two U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, joined senators from California and Pennsylvania in urging Iran to release the three American hikers who have been detained for a year.
The senators introduced a resolution urging the Iranian government to "immediately and unconditionally" release the three on humanitarian grounds.
Iranian officials have shown interest in a prisoner swap that would release the hikers along with some Iranians being held in the U.S., but Crowley said most of the Iranians the U.S. has detained are arms dealers who have been charged in court and been allowed access to attorneys.
"There's no comparability here," Crowley said.
(MPR's Steven John contributed to this report.)