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Image: Ann Curry, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
NBC News
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with TODAY’s Ann Curry at the Presidential Compound in Tehran.
msnbc.com and NBC News
updated 9/18/2009 9:16:42 AM ET 2009-09-18T13:16:42

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.

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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.

Video: Hikers ‘need to be punished’

  1. Closed captioning of: Hikers ‘need to be punished’

    >> red flags .

    >>> but now to an nbc news exclusive. ann curry is in tehran, iran , this morning where she sat down for a wide-ranging interview with iranian president mahmoud ahmadinejad , his first since that country's disputed elections. ann , good morning to you.

    >> reporter: meredith , good morning. and we asked him about his government's crackdown on the protesters after the june election here and about the missing american hikers who have been detained here for more than a month and also about the international atomic energy agency 's concerns about iran 's nuclear ambitions. mr. president, you are speaking to us at a critical moment. iran has now agreed to negotiate in what could lead to the first significant talks between iran and the united states in nearly 30 years. what do you want from the united states ?

    >> translator: today a new arrangement should be put in place based on new principles so that the world is directed towards peace and tranquility. we have always believed in talking, in negotiating, and that is our logic. nothing has changed.

    >> reporter: you are a father. what do you say to the families who accuse this government of brutalities, torture, disappearances, of their sons and daughters?

    >> translator: well, you are expressing certain claims that, by and large, are being leveled by those who oppose the islamic republ republic. i'm not in a position to answer or to judge whatever you are claiming. but does your heart really and sincerely go out to the people? are you really -- is that really the truth?

    >> reporter: i know people, mr. president.

    >> translator: i don't believe that.

    >> reporter: i know people, mr. president, who i believe were innocent, who were tortured.

    >> translator: it's possible.

    >> reporter: in prisons.

    >> translator: i don't have such information. people tortured in prisons. maybe you have more specific information. our judiciary, in accordance with the law, will deal with this matter.

    >> reporter: i must ask you about americans who are in custody here in iran , specifically the parents of three young hikers, shane bauer, sara shood and joshua fatale. you knew about their case. are asking for compassion. in a letter to you, they are going to be asking for you to bring their children on your plane to the united states as a humanitarian gesture. would you consider this?

    >> translator: well, i'm not happy that they have been arrested. but these individuals had violated our borders. and in accordance with the laws, they need to be punished. but i ask you, five iranian diplomats for two years now, well, they were -- they were in prison by u.s. troops . they had not violated the law. they were going about their diplomatic business and life in erbil in iraq. u.s. troops in iraq, without any documentation, arrested them. the u.s. government , is it going to strike a humanitarian posture by releasing them? will it release them? of course. under an equal condition, we are ready to engage in reciprocal action. the family of the u.s. citizens which are in prison here in iran , i sympathize with them. they need to know that these individuals have trampled -- have violated the law. however, i'm going to do my best for the iranians who are in u.s. prisons to be set free and for these individuals, u.s. citizens here, to be set free as well. i am hoping that this will happen as soon as possible.

    >> reporter: it is unclear if the five iranian diplomats he was referring to are the same ones who were already released in july. and meredith , in reference to the stability -- or rather the instability of the world today, president ahmadinejad said, quote, if mr. obama seriously is looking to bring about change, we will assist. we are hoping he will succeed. meredith ?

    >> all right, ann , thank you very much. you can read a full transcript of ann 's interview on todayshow.com. and you can watch that interview in its entirety this sunday at 1:00 p.m . eastern time on msnbc.

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