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Tehran asks U.S. to release 19 Iranian citizens

Turning the tables on the United States, Iran's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that U.S. authorities were holding 19 Iranian citizens on what it described as unfounded charges of sanctions violations and called for their release.

While Iranian officials have referred previously to what they have called the issue of Iranians in U.S. custody, the latest assertion was specific about the exact number being held and the reason they had been imprisoned.

The Iranian statement came as the United States has been pressing Iran to release three U.S. citizens of Iranian descent — including Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's correspondent in Tehran — and to provide information about a fourth American missing for eight years.

Anger over the imprisoned and missing Americans has been a festering issue in the estranged relationship between Iran and the United States. Talks to resolve it were held on the sidelines of the negotiations on Iran's disputed nuclear activities, which were concluded in July with an agreement, but there has been no further word on the prisoner issue.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, was quoted by the Tasnim News Agency as saying at a weekly briefing in Tehran that "Iran is pursuing the fate of its nationals and urges the U.S. administration to put an end to their incarceration." She said nothing about the Americans held in Iranian prisons.

U.S. officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.