Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the three American hikers
imprisoned in Iran broke the law by crossing the Iranian border and
need to be punished.
In an interview in Tehran with NBC, a U.S. television network, Mr. Ahmadinejad said he sympathizes with the families of the three hikers.
But he said he would only consider releasing the hikers if Iranians held in U.S. prisons are also freed.
It was not exactly clear which Iranians he was referring to. Five Iranian officials detained for more than two years at a U.S. prison in Iraq were released two months ago as part of a U.S.-Iraq security deal.
On Thursday, the mothers of the three hikers - Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal - appealed to Mr. Ahmadinejad to bring their children with him when he arrives next week in New York to address the U.N. General Assembly.
The three Americans went missing on July 31 after setting out on a hike from Iraq's northern Kurdish region, and apparently strayed across the poorly marked border into Iran.
Iranian television has described the three Americans as spies who illegally entered the country and disregarded warnings from border guards.
On Thursday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Iranian authorities failed again to grant the Swiss consular access to the three detainees.
The United States does not have diplomatic ties with Iran and has worked through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran to obtain information about the detainees.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.