(CNN) — The United States was using some of the four Iranian-Americans detained by Tehran to meddle in Iranian affairs and is trying to cover it up, Tehran’s security chief charged Saturday.
“In some fields, the government of the United States had chosen to use these individuals, through the money allocated through their Congress, in order to interfere in the domestic affairs of Iran,” Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, told CNN.
“The U.S. must understand that interfering in Iranian affairs is not to their advantage … we are quite aware of what is happening,” he said.
The Iranian government is holding Americans Haleh Esfandiari, Parnaz Azima, Kian Tajbakhsh and Ali Shakeri.
Earlier this week, Iran formally charged Esfandiari with trying to topple the government, according to an Iranian judiciary official, who also said that Tajbakhsh, a sociologist, is being detained in Tehran.
Esfandiari, 67, who works for the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, was jailed in Tehran on May 8. Tajbakhsh, an independent consultant and urban planner employed by U.S. philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Institute, was picked up two days later.
According to Human Rights Watch, Shakeri, another Iranian-American, was detained during a recent trip to Iran. The Iranian government has not provided any public information about his whereabouts.
Iranian authorities have also confiscated the passport of Azima, a reporter for the Persian-language service of Radio Free Europe who holds both Iranian and American citizenship, according to RFE. Like Esfandiari, Azima was in Iran to visit her ailing mother.
President Bush, in a statement Friday, condemned the detentions and called for the immediate and unconditional release of the four.
“These individuals have dedicated themselves to building bridges between the American and Iranian people, a goal the Iranian regime claims to support,” Bush said.
“Their presence in Iran — to visit their parents or to conduct humanitarian work — poses no threat. Indeed, their activities are typical of the abiding ties that Iranian-Americans have with their land of origin.”
Larijani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said the Iranians have no problem with visiting relatives and family. But he said at least some of those held were being used for more nefarious purposes.
“We don’t think it’s necessary for the Americans to sort of exaggerate what is happening,” he said. “At times, some people may have made some mistakes. The Iranian system will talk with them, they will investigate, collect information on them and then make a decision.
“I think that with the behavior the U.S. government demonstrated in Abu Ghraib [U.S. prison in Iraq where U.S. soldiers were accused of abuses], what they are saying about these people in Iran is not really a true reflection of their concerns.”
Larijani said Tehran will release evidence proving the Iranian-Americans’ interference in domestic affairs “when the investigation is done.”
“But you should rest assured that before they are Americans, they are Iranians, and we care about them and will make our best efforts to uphold what is just and fair,” he said.
The United States has raised the issue in a way that was “not very fair,” he added.
“My suggestion is that U.S. politicians should actually come forward and be a little more honest. They have to understand that given what they’ve done in the region, it’s no longer possible for them to say they have concerns when they’re trying to have a cover-up.”
The State Department — which updated its travel warning regarding Iran this week to mention the detentions — said it is working through the Swiss government to secure the release of those being held.