The fate of the three Americans may have been complicated by a report by the Iranian Fars News Agency quoting an Iraqi police commander, Anwar Haji Omar, as saying that the captured Americans are CIA agents.
A State Department official called the spying suggestion "ridiculous."
"How the Iranians treat them is going to be a message to President Obama and the U.S.," said Elliot Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If they start talking about spying and start talking about needing to investigate and this thing runs into days and then weeks, that's a very serious message that they don't want better relations with us."
Some experts say like Saberi, the three hikers could be portrayed as spies and used as bargaining chips in Tehran's tense relations with the United States.
"I think there's a decent chance that Iran will portray these three as spies. And leave it up to the United States or to these three individuals to prove they are innocent," said Michael O'Hanlon, a national security expert with the Brookings Institution. "And given what we know about the CIA's interest in this part of the world, some people will believe Iran."
The White House has yet to issue a statement about the detained Americans. As U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq, questions are arising as to what role that country will play in getting the Americans released, as their fate remains unknown.
ABC News' Huma Khan, Kirit Radia, Jim Sciutto and Ki Mae Heussner contributed to this report.