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Iran will release U.S. hikers as Ahmadinejad prepares to speak at UN

Two American hikers imprisoned in Iran for more than two years are about to be released as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prepares for his annual trip to the United Nations.

Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd were arrested and convicted of espionage when they strayed across the Iraqi-Iranian border in July 2009. Their arrest was seen as political. Sarah was released last year in conjunction with Ahmadinejad’s speech in New York. For the last several years, he has exercised his right as head of state to speech to the world body’s General Assembly. He has taken the opportunity to lecture delegates on the merits of Shia Islam.

In past years, he has blasted U.S. foreign policy, usually resulting in the exit of the U.S. delegation in protest. Then he has used the remainder of his time to ramble on about what he believes to be the imminent return of the Shia Messiah, the Hidden Imam — who disappeared into a well 1,000 years ago. The Imam’s return will usher in a period of world peace under Muslim rule, according to Ahmadinejad’s previous UN speeches.

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The two remaining hikers’ release appeared certain Tuesday as an Iranian court set their bail at $500,000 each. Defense lawyer Masoud Shafiei told the British newspaper the Daily Mail the court would begin the process to free them after funds were received. Payment must be arranged through third parties because of U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

“All three Americans had denied being spies and said they may have mistakenly crossed into Iran when they stepped off a dirt road while hiking near a waterfall in the Kurdish region of Iraq,” reported the Daily Mail:

Last month, Bauer and Fattal, both 29, were sentenced to three years each for illegal entry into Iran and five years each for spying for the United States. They appealed the verdicts. Shourd’s case remains open. Shafiei said he has passed along details of the court’s decision to the Swiss Embassy, which represent U.S. interests in Iran since there are no diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington.

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The diplomatic pathways for possible bail payments were not immediately clear.

Officials in Oman – which has close ties with the U.S. and Iran – did not immediately respond for comment on whether they could again offer assistance.

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