In Evin prison in northwest Tehran, three Americans languish while awaiting trial on espionage charges after their hiking trip along the Iran-Iraq border ended in a well-publicized arrest.
Half a world away, in a federal prison in northern Minnesota, an Iranian arms dealer lives in a similar cell. He never went to trial but instead pleaded guilty in December to charges he tried to procure missile and radar parts, among other things, for the Islamic Republic. His case has been less publicized but is no less bizarre.
The two cases are intertwined, say U.S. intelligence and Homeland Security officials, who agreed to discuss the case on condition of anonymity. If the Iranian government does eventually yield to mounting international pressure to free the three Americans — Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27 — it may do so only to get its hands on the imprisoned Amir Hossein Ardebili, 36, they say. (The mothers of the three hikers have been granted visas and are hopeful that they will be able to visit with the trio in prison this week in Tehran.)