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Iraq Intervenes to Help Free US Hikers From Iran

A picture released by Iran's state-run Press TV shows US hikers Shane Bauer (L) and Josh Fattal (R), detained in Iran on spying charges, during the first session of their trial, February 6, 2011 (file photo)

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has stepped in to help secure the release of two American hikers jailed in Iran.

At a meeting of U.S. and Iraqi officials in Baghdad on Thursday, Iraq's foreign minister said his government is making intensive efforts to help free Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. The two Americans were arrested on the Iran-Iraq border area in mid-2009 and convicted of spying in Iran.

The Thursday edition of the Iranian Sharq daily newspaper quoted Kurdish Iraqi envoy Nazem Dabbagh as saying Mr. Talabani intervened after a request from the hikers' family. He added the men will be turned over to the Swiss embassy in Tehran next week.

Oman has also sent an official to Iran to help secure the hikers' release. Oman negotiated the release of the third American hiker, Sarah Shourd, who was released a year ago in Tehran.

The Associated Press reported that an Omani plane is in Tehran ready to ferry the men out if they are released.

Fattal and Bauer's lawyer, Masoud Shafii, said he has been notified by the court that his clients will be released once they each post bail, reportedly set at $500,000.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a correspondent for the American television network NBC on Tuesday that he thought the hikers would be freed on humanitarian grounds within "a couple of days."

But in a statement Wednesday, Iran's judiciary said no decision had been made about the hikers.

The hikers' families said this week they were "overjoyed" about reports that the men may soon be released, calling the news a "huge relief."

Bauer and Fatal were sentenced last month to eight-year prison terms for the spying charges. The pair has insisted that if they strayed over the border into Iran, it was inadvertent.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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