SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The United States remains hopeful that Iran will release two U.S. hikers and is not unduly concerned by Tehran’s delay in carrying out a pledge to free them earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday.
“We continue to hope that the two young Americans will be released as part of a humanitarian gesture by the Iranian government,” Clinton said at a news conference in San Francisco, where she was on an official visit.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a U.S. television interviewer that Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal would be freed in coming days in a humanitarian gesture ahead of his trip to the United Nations in New York.
But Iran’s judiciary on Wednesday said the release was not imminent.
Clinton said the United States had noted previous delays between official Iranian announcements and their eventual execution and had been assured by a number of sources both publicly and privately that the two men would be freed.
“I’m going to count on the Iranian government fulfilling the announcement that was made by the leadership of the country and hope that it can be expedited and we can see their release very soon,” she said.
Bauer and Fattal were arrested in July 2009 near Iran’s border with Iraq, where they say they were hiking in the mountains as tourists. They were with a third American, Sarah Shourd, who was allowed to go home in September 2010 on $500,000 bail.
Their lawyer said on Tuesday the men, who were sentenced last month to eight years jail, would be released on $500,000 bail each. They share a cell in Tehran’s Evin prison.
U.S. officials have repeatedly denied the two men were spies and the case has caused further tension between Tehran and Washington, which also says the Islamic state is trying to build nuclear bombs and has imposed sanctions on Iran.
Tehran denies this, saying its nuclear program is only aimed at generating power and has so far refused to halt its sensitive nuclear work.
Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Phil Stewart; writing by Andrew Quinn; editing by Bill Trott