Clinton: US hopes for quick release of hikers

The United States is hopeful for the quick release of two remaining detained American hikers in Iran, after Iran's president pledged to release them, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday.

Clinton said the U.S. was "encouraged" by the comments from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in two interviews said he was working to free Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. The two have been in prison in Iran for more than two years since they and a third American were arrested after straying across the Iran-Iraq border.

The pair were convicted on spy-related charges and sentenced to eight years in prison. The third hiker, Sarah Shourd, whose case remains open, was released last year after the payment of a $500,000 bail.

"We have followed this very closely and we are encouraged by what the Iranian government has said today," Clinton told reporters at the State Department. "We obviously hope that we will see a positive outcome from what appears to be a decision by the government."

Earlier Tuesday, the lawyer representing Bauer and Fattal said a similar bail had been set for each of them.

Lawyer Masoud Shafiei said the court would begin the process to free Bauer and Fattal after payment of the bail, which must be arranged through third parties because of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. But the timing of the court's decision is similar to last year's bail deal mediated by the Gulf state of Oman that freed Shourd.

Ahmadinejad, in an interview aired on NBC's "Today" show and in an interview with the Washington Post, predicted the Americans could be freed "in a couple of days." He described the bail offer as a "humanitarian gesture" and repeated complaints about attention for Iranians held in U.S. prisons.

He has previously pledged to look into the case, but has said it is a matter for Iran's courts.

The Americans were arrested in July 2009 along the Iran-Iraq border and accused by Iran of espionage. The trio have denied the charges and say 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.