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Iran: Detained American Woman Suspected Of Spying

An Iranian newspaper reported Thursday that an American woman was arrested trying to enter Iran and is suspected of espionage.

The state-owned Iran daily said the 55-year-old woman -- identified in Farsi as Hal Talaian -- had "spying equipment or a microphone" concealed in her teeth when she was detained by customs agents near the border town of Nordouz, more than 300 miles northwest of Tehran. The report also said she was trying to enter Iran from Armenia without a visa, but did not specify when she was detained.

But Iran's semiofficial Fars news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying the woman was taken into custody "about one week ago." Fars also said she told Iranian border guards that her life would be in danger if they sent her back to Armenia.

In Washington, an official at the State Department said the U.S. has reached out to the Swiss, who represent American interests in Iran, to look into the reports. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said, "Right now we can't even confirm she is an American citizen."

Armenian authorities had no immediate comment.

If reports are confirmed, the woman, whose name has not been released, would be the fourth American arrested and accused of spying by Iran in less than two years.

In July 2009, Iran detained three Americans who were initially accused of crossing the border illegally from northern Iraq and later accused of spying. The U.S. has dismissed the spying charges and says the three are innocent hikers. Their families have said if they crossed the border at all, it was inadvertent.

One of the three, Sarah Shourd, was released in September on compassionate grounds and a half-million dollars' bail. Her fiance, Shane Bauer, and friend Josh Fattal remain in custody, however, and their November trial was postponed when Shourd did not appear.

The two men could go on trial next month.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reported from Vienna, Austria, for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.

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NPR Staff and Wires