Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said two U.S. hikers held on espionage charges since 2009 would be released within days, U.S. media reported on Tuesday.
Ahmadinejad told the Washington Post that he would grant a “unilateral pardon” to hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, and made a similar statement to NBC television’s “Today Show” program.
“I think these two persons will be freed in a couple of days. Yes, in a couple of days. Inshallah (God willing), they will be freed,” he told NBC.
“These two persons will be released. It’s going to be over. We do it, for example, in a humanitarian gesture,” he added.
The two U.S. citizens, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, were arrested near the mountainous Iraq-Iran border in July 31, 2009, along with a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, who was later released on humanitarian and medical grounds.
Bauer, 28, and Fattal, 29, now share a cell in Tehran’s Evin prison. They had pleaded not guilty to the charges at their closed-door trial, which ended on July 31.
Lawyer Masoud Shafii said bail for the two hikers has been set at $500,000 each. “The Americans will be freed when the bail is paid,” Shafii told AFP.
Washington is seeking details about Iran’s promised release of two jailed US hikers, the State Department said Tuesday.
“We are aware of these reports, and we are working through the Swiss protecting power to get more details from the Iranian authorities,” the State Department said in its statement.
U.S. President Barack Obama has denied that the Americans, who were working in the Middle East when they decided to hike in the scenic mountains of Iraq, had any link to U.S. intelligence.
Bauer, Fattal and Shourd say they were hiking in the mountains of northern Iraq and, if they crossed the unmarked border into Iran, it was by mistake.
Their supporters say evidence against them has never been made public, and that the sentence came as a shock after hopes for their release had been boosted by positive comments from Iran’s foreign minister.