IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Deal to free 2 Americans jailed in Iran hits snags

/ Source: NBC News and news services

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.

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" .

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.

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.