Top U.S. officials assured Iran will soon release hikers

U.S. hikers Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Fattal arrive for trial on spying charges in Tehran  in a photo from Iran's Press TV .

Story highlights

  • Defense Secretary Panetta: U.S. authorities have been "assured" of the release
  • Sources "publicly and privately" say it will happen, Secretary of State Clinton says
  • Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested in 2009 while hiking near the Iran-Iraq border
  • They were sentenced to 8 years in an Iranian prison after being convicted of spying
U.S. officials have been assured that two Americans jailed by Iran while hiking will soon be released, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
"We have received word through a number of sources, publicly and privately, that the decision will be executed on and that we will see their return to their families," Clinton said Thursday night at a press conference with her Australian counterpart in San Francisco.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested on July 31, 2009, after apparently straying across an unmarked border between Iraq and Iran while hiking in northern Iraq's Kurdish region. They said they were unaware they had crossed into Iran, but Iranian authorities characterized them as spies.
And last month, an Iranian court convicted the pair for illegally entering Iran and spying, then sentenced them to eight years in prison.
Their prospects, however, brightened when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told NBC's Today show that the pair will be released on humanitarian grounds "in a couple of days."
But on Wednesday, a day after that interview aired, Iran's judiciary posted a statement saying "the case is currently being considered by the presiding judge, and any related news will be given by the judiciary. No other source is entitled to provide news about the case."
Despite the discrepancy, Panetta said Thursday that U.S. authorities have "been assured that steps will be taken to make that happen. And we hope that ... is the case." He added that it is difficult to "speculate (on) differences and battles" inside Iran, but that he didn't expect those to prevent the men from returning home.
Clinton added that she and other U.S. officials are "not at all concerned" about any issues or delays, saying she was "going to count on the Iranian government fulfilling (Ahmadinejad's) announcement."
The imprisoned Americans' attorney, Masoud Shafiee, told CNN on Thursday that Bauer and Fattal had filed all the necessary paperwork for them to be released on bail $500,000 bail, but he does not expect Iranian judges to act before Saturday.
He said he hoped a decision would be made then -- after the Iranian weekend -- but said he was "not privy to what goes on behind the scenes."
A day earlier, an Omani plane set off for Tehran carrying an Omani official who will be working on any negotiation, a Western diplomat told CNN.
Oman helped secure the release of Sarah Shourd, Bauer's fiancee, who was also taken into custody with the two other Americans. Last September, Omani sources posted her bail, a senior Obama administration official said at the time, after an Iranian judge allowed her to be released on bail because of a medical condition.