US officials optimistic on hikers release by Iran

AP News
Posted: Sep 15, 2011 8:24 PM
US officials optimistic on hikers release by Iran

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday she is optimistic the two American hikers being held in Iran will be released, despite a delay since Iran's president announced the planned release.

Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said they continue to hope that the Iranian regime will release the two men as a humanitarian gesture. The pair has been jailed more than two years.

"We have seen in the past some delays that have occurred after decisions were announced, Clinton said.

"At this point we are not at all concerned," said Clinton, who was in San Francisco holding security talks with Australian officials.

Clinton said the U.S. has received word through a number of sources that the hikers will be released and returned to their families.

However, Iran's powerful judiciary on Wednesday clouded the case by saying it was still reviewing the bail provisions. It was a potentially embarrassing rejection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's prediction a day earlier that their release could be in a matter of days.

The statement by the hardline judiciary appeared to be a message that only its officials can set the timetables and conditions on any possible release and not the president, who is locked in a bitter power struggle with the ruling clerics who control the courts.

It also could be a swipe at Ahmadinejad's hopes of timing the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal with his expected arrival in New York next week for the U.N. General Assembly.

Officials said Arab countries Oman and Iraq were involved in negotiations for the release of the two Americans, as efforts intensified over a $1 million bail-for-freedom plan.

Bauer and Fattal were detained along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009, charged with spying and sentenced to jail. They have denied the spying charges.

Their friend Sarah Shourd also was detained. She was released in September with mediation by Oman after a payment of $500,000 bail.

The high-level Iraqi and Omani intervention suggested movement on the complicated judicial and diplomatic dealings over the $500,000 bail deal for each American. Bauer and Fattal, both 29, were sentenced last month to three years each for illegal entry into Iran and five years each for spying for the United States. They have appealed the verdicts, which leaves the opening for bail. Shourd's case remains open.

The Americans say they may have mistakenly crossed into Iran when they stepped off a dirt road while hiking near a waterfall in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq when they were detained.