Video: Hikers' freedom delayed in Iran

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    >>> in iran tonight, two american hikers convicted of spying are facing yet another delay in their fight for freedom. nbc's tehran bureau chief ali arouzi is in iran tonight and has the latest.

    >> reporter: good evening, lester. shane bauer and josh fattal have to wait longer for their freedom. in the latest twist, the iranian foreign minister entered negotiations and said the judiciary may be willing to commute their sentences in the near future as a sign of islamic compassion. but he also raised the issue of iranians being held in u.s. prisons, suggesting a possible prisoner swap. earlier today, the lawyer for the two hikers told nbc news that he tried to finalize the bail arrangement for the two hikers, but was unable to do so because the second judge that needed to sign the documents was going to be on vacation until tuesday. president ahmadinejad had hoped to resolve this issue before traveling to new york tomorrow and addressing the general assembly later in the week. no doubt we'll hear more about this case in the coming days. back to you, lester.

    >> ali arouzi from tehran tonight.

Image: Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal
AFP - Getty Images, file
Shane Bauer, left, and Josh Fattal
NBC News and news services
updated 9/18/2011 7:43:46 AM ET 2011-09-18T11:43:46

A bail-for-freedom deal for two Americans jailed as spies in Iran hit a snag Sunday because a judge whose signature is needed on the bail papers was on vacation, the prisoners' lawyer said, dashing hopes for their immediate release.

The attorney, Masoud Shafiei, told The Associated Press he could not complete the paperwork on the $1 million bail deal because a second judge who must sign the documents is on vacation until Tuesday. One judge already signed the papers Saturday.

"I have no choice but to wait until Tuesday," Shafiei said.

Story: Hitch over bail for US hikers held in Iran

Iran has sent mixed messages about the fate of the two men last week, with the country's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying they would be released in a "couple of days" in an interview aired Tuesday on TODAY.

Video: New hurdle for US hikers jailed in Iran

However on Wednesday, Iran's powerful judiciary clouded the case by saying it was still reviewing the bail provisions in a potentially embarrassing rejection of Ahmadinejad's remarks.

It then emerged that the Gulf state of Oman had sent a private plane to Tehran that could be used to transport the two men.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29 years old, have been jailed for more than two years in a case that has deepened the mistrust between Iran and the United States.

They were detained along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009 with their friend Sarah Shourd. She was released last September with mediation by the Gulf nation of Oman after $500,000 was paid.

Timeline: Detained hikers (on this page)

The men were convicted of spying for the United States and illegally entering Iran and were each sentenced last month to eight years in prison. They denied the charges and appealed the verdicts, opening the way for the possible deal to free them in exchange for $500,000 bail each.

They say they were just hiking in Iraq's scenic north and may have mistakenly crossed an unmarked border with Iran.

Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Saturday the courts are willing to commute the Americans' sentences in the "near future" as a gesture of Islamic mercy, but did not say when the pair could be released.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Timeline: Detained hikers

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