Iranian statements mean possible deal for 13 Jews

Many observers believe that the arrests and accusations are part of a power struggle between conservative hard-liners and President Mohammad Khatami, who has made overtures to the West.

The Jews being held are religious and community leaders. Arrested in March, they are being detained for spying for Israel. Both Israel and the United States have vehemently denied the charges.

The Reuters report Tuesday, quoting Iranian newspapers, said that Rahbarpour compared the current arrests with the Iranian hostage crisis, during which American diplomats were held for 444 days in the U.S. Embassy and released in January 1981.

The Jews "are not more important than the American spies," who were detained and then released, Rahbarpour reportedly said.

"Of course, it is possible the same thing will happen for these Jews, or the situation could change and their conditions may turn out worse than the American spies."