Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country would consider releasing American prisoners if the United States releases Iranians held for sanctions violations.
There are three US citizens known to be in Iranian jails, the most notable being Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, a dual American-Iranian citizen jailed for espionage. Another is missing after visiting Iran.
Rouhani, in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly's annual meeting of world leaders, said Sunday the United States is holding Iranians whose only crime was to circumvent economic sanctions which will soon be removed as part of the landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers.
Those who violated the sanctions "tried to do something which they won't be punished for now," Rouhani noted. Of Americans imprisoned in Iran, he said, "If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set [Iranians in US custody] free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well."
Rezaian has been held in Iran for more than a year. Former US Marine Amir Hekmati was sentenced to death in 2012 for espionage, waging war against God and of corrupting the earth; Saeed Abedini was arrested in Iran in 2012, charged with attempting to undermine the government. A fourth US citizen, former FBI agent and CIA contractor, Robert Levinson, has been missing since visiting Iran in 2007.
Secretary of State John Kerry, also in New York, responded to reports of Rouhani's comments.
"I have yet to hear directly from the Iranians on anything direct. We've had some conversations but ... we'll wait and see where we are," he said.
By Ed Adamczyk
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