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Iran Hints at a Resolution for Imprisoned and Missing Americans

Iran’s president and foreign minister dropped hints on Friday of movement toward a resolution in the fates of Americans imprisoned or missing in Iran.

The president, Hassan Rouhani, who was visiting New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly gathering, told guests at an invitation-only meeting in a nearby hotel that he wanted the governments of Iran and the United States “to be helpful” in finding a solution.

At around the same time, in an impromptu encounter with an American congressman in the General Assembly hall, the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said he was hopeful that the prisoner issue could be resolved, according to the congressman, Dan Kildee, Democrat of Michigan.

Mr. Kildee, who was there to hear a speech by Pope Francis, said he had approached Mr. Zarif, who was sitting at the Iran delegation’s table.

“It’s the first time I spoke with him,” said Mr. Kildee, whose constituents include the family of Amir Hekmati, the longest-held American among the three known to be imprisoned in Iran.

“We had a good conversation,” Mr. Kildee said in a telephone interview, recounting how he began what turned into a five-minute discussion. “Once I told him my name, he knew who I was.”

Mr. Kildee, who has been an outspoken advocate for the release of Mr. Hekmati and the others, quoted Mr. Zarif as saying that the Iranian and American sides “continue to have discussions, that they continue to work on this and hope they can find some resolution.”

Efforts to get Mr. Zarif’s version of the encounter were not immediately successful. Officials from Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to an emailed query.

Expectations have risen since the nuclear agreement with Iran was completed in July that the United States and Iran would resolve the prisoner issue. Some Iranian officials have indicated in recent weeks that a prisoner exchange may be negotiated. American officials say there have been no discussions of an exchange.

Mr. Rouhani said in an interview with “60 Minutes” broadcast last Sunday that the United States was holding an unspecified number of Iranians for violating American economic sanctions, which Iran regards as unilateral and illegal.

Asked if he would support a prisoner exchange, Mr. Rouhani said in that interview: “I don’t particularly like the word ‘exchange,’ but from a humanitarian perspective, if we can take a step, we must do it. The American side must take its own steps.”

Mr. Rouhani’s remarks at the private meeting on Friday were similar when asked about the American prisoners and the idea of an exchange, participants said.

He reiterated Iran’s view that the American prisoners are Iranian, even though they are United States citizens, because they are of Iranian descent. While he declined to talk about prisoner exchanges, Mr. Rouhani said, “I wish for both governments to be helpful” in resolving the issue.

Besides Mr. Hekmati, a Marine veteran who was seized in Iran more than four years ago, the Iranians are holding Jason Rezaian of Marin County, Calif., The Washington Post’s correspondent in Tehran, who was arrested in July 2014, and Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor from Boise, Idaho, who has been incarcerated since 2013.

A fourth American, Robert A. Levinson, a retired F.B.I. agent from southern Florida, has been missing in Iran since 2007.

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(via NY Times)