"These individuals have dedicated themselves to building bridges between the American and Iranian people, a goal the Iranian regime claims to support," the president said. "Their presence in Iran -- to visit their parents or to conduct humanitarian work -- poses no threat. Indeed, their activities are typical of the abiding ties that Iranian-Americans have with their land of origin."
He also called on the Iranian government to provide information about Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who vanished in Iran in March.
Those detained include Haleh Esfandiari, who works for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and was in Iran to visit her mother. Iran said this week that she faces charges of conspiring to overthrow the government.
Another detainee, Parnaz Azima, works for the Persian service of Radio Free Europe and was also visiting her parents. Two others are sociologist Kian Tajbakhsh and Ali Shakeri, a businessman from California.