Iran to Release Convicted U.S. Hikers on Eve of Ahmadinejad UN Visit

                                                                                                        PRESS TV/AFP/Getty Images

ABC News’ Jim Sciutto and Katie Kindelan report:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that the two U.S. hikers sentenced last month to eight years in prison for spying and entering the country illegally will now be released in a “couple of days,” ABC News has confirmed.

The lawyer in Iran for Americans Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer said he has been informed by the judiciary that bail for the two Americans, held in Iran for more than two years, has been set for $500,000 each.

That was the same amount required for Sarah Shourd, Bauer’s fiancee and the third American hiker to be captured along with Fattal and Bauer, when she was released in September of last year.

Speaking to ABC News this morning, Shourd, now back in the United States, said she had not heard anything official but did add it would be “amazing,” considering it will be the one-year anniversary of her own release in two days.

The three Americans — Bauer, 29, Sarah Shourd, 32, and Josh Fattal, 29 — were detained by Iranian officials July 31, 2009. The hikers, all graduates of the University of California at Berkeley, had gone to Iraqi Kurdistan for a weeklong holiday in 2009, and were reportedly hiking on a trail that winds along the unmarked Iran-Iraq border.

Iranians say the trio entered the country illegally to spy. The hikers say they were abducted by Iranian soldiers on the Iraqi side and taken into Iran.

There had been hopeful signs for weeks about their impending release, with President Ahmedinejad eager to make the gesture before his visit to New York City next week for the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Shourd was released on bail last year as Ahmadinejad was heading for the annual gathering of world leaders.

Releasing the imprisoned Americans, however, is a promise Ahmadinejad has failed to deliver on before, a sign of sharp divisions between the Iranian government and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who controls the judiciary

An Iranian court sentenced Bauer and Fattal last month to three years each for illegal entry into Iran and five years each for spying for the United States. They appealed the verdicts. Shourd’s judiciary case remains open.

Western officials in Iran directly involved in the case told ABC News they are still waiting for official notification from the Iranian government confirming the hikers’ release.

In an interview with the Washington Post today, Ahmadinejad called his decision to release the hikers a “unilateral humanitarian gesture.”

The hikers’ release is seen as a win for the embattled Iranian president, who had long sought to make this move to showcase his power and goodwill at home and abroad, but had been blocked by other hardliners in the Iranian government.

Now Ahmadinejad is able to showcase that goodwill as he prepares to visit the United States.   Some reports indicate that he might even bring the two U.S. hikers home on the plane with him to New York City.


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