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Deal to free 2 Americans in Iran hits snag

BY NASSER KARIMI

AND BARBARA SURK

The Associated Press

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

The attorney, Masoud Shafiei, said 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 signed the papers Saturday.

"I have no choice but to wait until Tuesday," Shafiei told The Associated Press.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, 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 into 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.

However, Mohammed Javad Larijani, the head of Iran's Human Rights Council and a brother of the country's head of the powerful judiciary, said the men's "crime was not limited to illegal trespassing." Bauer and Fattal were spying for the United States and "we do not award the spies," Larijani told the semiofficial Fars news agency Sunday.

The mixed signals could reflect the bitter internal political feuds between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics, who control the courts.

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