Ahmadinejad Says U.S. Should Answer Shourd's Release With Release of Iranians

Iranian president calls American hiker's release 'great humanitarian gesture.'

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2010— -- Just days after the release of American hiker Sarah Shourd, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Washington should respond to his country's "huge humanitarian gesture" by releasing eight Iranians he says are being held in the United States.

The Iranian president made his remarks during an exclusive interview with "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour, just after arriving in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Shourd had been held in Iran for more than a year after straying into Iran while hiking in the mountains with her fiance Shane Bauer and friend Josh Fattal, who remain in Iranian custody. All three have been accused of spying.

Amanpour asked the Iranian president to respond directly to an appeal by the mothers of the two remaining American hikers being held, asking that their sons being released.

Ahmadinejad said their cases are in the hands of the judicial system, but he appeared to have already rendered his verdict.

"They violated the law," he said. "Do you want violators to be released. Is that what you're asking me?"

"It would not be misplaced to ask that the U.S. government should take a humanitarian gesture to release the Iranians who were illegally arrested and detained here in the United States," Ahmadinejad said.

In an earlier interview, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Amanpour that she is "grateful and appreciative that Sarah was released and want to see not only her two compatriots but other Americans who are held without cause released as well."

Clinton added that the United States remains concerned about Iran's nuclear program and would continue to pressure Iran through economic sanctions and engagement through the P5 Plus One forum, named for the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S.) and Germany.

Clinton said during an interview with Amanpour in Jerusalem on Thursday, during the latest round of the Middle East peace talks, that the United States "stand[s] ready to engage with Iran."

"We would like to see them once again permit full IAEA inspections," Clinton said. "We would like to see them taking the offer that has been made by us and others to talk about a broad range of issues like their support for terrorism."

Asked if he planned on having a meeting about the nuclear issue with the United States in the P5 Plus One anytime soon, Ahmadinejad said, "Yes, I think we will have a plan to discuss things."

"We've always been ready to discuss issues, as long as they are within the legal framework," he said.