Timeline of U.S. hikers detained by Iran
Iran has released two American men convicted of espionage, ending a case that had worsened U.S.-Iranian relations for more than two years.
The two Americans, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, were first handed over to Swiss authorities Wednesday afternoon under arrangements that are said to include a combined $1million in bail.
The men later left Tehran's Evin prison, where they had been held since 2009, in the company of Omani envoys. Oman said it has provided an aircraft to fly the Americans out of Iran.
A lawyer for the Americans broke the news of their imminent release earlier in the day.
Masoud Shafiei said there had been a last-minute delay with the bail arrangement, but that the legal procedure was already finished.
Bauer and Fattal, along with their friend Sarah Shourd, were arrested in 2009 along Iran's border with Iraq and charged with spying. The men were convicted last month and sentenced to eight years in prison.
All three have maintained their innocence, saying they had no intention of entering Iran while hiking and that the border was not clearly marked. Iran released Shourd last year - a few weeks before the annual U.N. meeting - on $500,000 bail.
Oman, which has also been helping to resolve the case, says its plane has been waiting since last week, when Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the pair were to be released with two days.
That announcement was swiftly contradicted by the Iranian judiciary, raising questions about tensions within Iran's opaque power structure.
The release Wednesday came after Ahmadinejad already left the country for his appearance at the United Nations.
The director of the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies, Ali Nourizadeh, says the delay in the release indicates a clear split between Ahmadinejad and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"Prior to his trip to the United States, he wanted them to be released, just to make sure that he is going to use that credit in his journey to the United States. Ahmadinejad loves to be interviewed, and if he managed to release them, then as soon as he arrived in the United States, there will be a pile of reporters waiting for him and he would have loved that. But Khamenei deprived him and did not allow him to enjoy the benefit and also to have the credit," Nourizadeh said.
Even if Ahmadinejad does not directly benefit from the release, the resolution of the case removes one of the many points of contention between Iran and Washington. The U.S. cut relations in 1980 after the post-revolution seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and remains at odds with Iran's government over its anti-Israel policies and its disputed nuclear program.