Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is downplaying any suggestion that two remaining American hikers detained in his country will be released. The Iranian leader spoke in an interview that aired on U.S. television.
American hiker Sarah Shourd arrived in the United States Sunday after more than a year spent in jail in Iran. Asked about the possibility of early release for two other detained hikers, President Ahmadinejad was noncommittal.
He spoke on ABC's This Week program.
"We want people to be free and not to suffer," he said. "But at the end of the day there is a law that determines who stays in prison and who does not."
Iran seized Shourd and two hiking companions last year after the trio allegedly strayed over the country's border with Iraq.
Also appearing on ABC, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed Shourd's release.
"I was so pleased that this young woman was able to come home," she said. "I want the other two young Americans to come home, as well."
But President Ahmadinejad said if the United States wants more humanitarian releases, the Obama administration should make a gesture of its own. The Iranian leader repeated a call for the release of Iranians who were detained in other countries and then taken to the United States.
Mr. Ahmadinejad also said international sanctions imposed on Iran over the country's nuclear program have forced Iran to become stronger and more resourceful.
He expressed a general willingness to engage in dialogue about the nuclear impasse and other matters.
"We have a plan to discuss issues," he said. "We have always been ready to discuss issues as long as they are within a legal framework and based on principles of justice and respect."
As a candidate in 2008 elections, U.S. President Barack Obama said he would be willing to meet with America's adversaries, including the Iranian leader. No such talks have come to pass. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it is not the United States that has backed away from dialogue.
"We have said to the Iranians all along [that] we have two tracks," said Clinton. "We have the pressure track and we have the engagement-diplomatic track. And we still remain open to that diplomacy. But it has been very clear the Iranians do not want to engage with us."
President Ahmadinejad and numerous other leaders are in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, which begins Monday.