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White House Cautious But Optimistic for Release of US Hiker in Iran

A top White House official said Sunday the United States is "hopeful" that Iran will release one of three American hikers who have been held since July of last year. Authorities in Tehran have agreed to release Sarah Shourd on $500,000 bail for medical reasons, pending her trial on spying and illegally entering the country.

White House adviser David Axelrod said U.S. officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to the possibility that the first of the three U.S. hikers might be released. "Obviously, we're hopeful and encouraged by this news. But there have been starts and stops in this before," he said.

Axelrod spoke on NBC television's "Meet the Press" program. He declined to talk about the other two hikers - Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal - and the possibility that they might also be released - stressing that the situation was at a sensitive stage.

"We're hopeful that we can get these folks out. They should never have been in jail in the first place. They are being held under false pretenses and they should be released," he said.

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi says she could be released in the next two to three days, after bail is posted. Speaking on Iranian state television, Dolatabadi said that because Shourd is ill, judges have agreed to convert her detention to $500,000 in bail.

Shourd's mother says her daughter has a pre-cancerous cervical problem and a lump in her breast that have gone untreated.

Masoud Shafiei, an Iranian lawyer who is representing the American hikers, says Bauer and Fattal's detentions have been extended for two months. He says he is working to have them granted bail as well.

Shafiei says he has been in contact with the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to make arrangements to pay Shourd's bail. The Swiss Embassy represents U.S. interests in Iran because the two countries do not have diplomatic relations.

Payment of bail might pose a problem because the United States and other nations have strict sanctions in place against financial transactions with Iran. It was unclear whether the bail payment would violate U.S. trade sanctions or whether a special waiver would be required.

The hikers' families have declined to comment on the reports of their possible bail. A posting on a Facebook page for the three hikers thanked those who have posted messages of support on the social networking website.

Shourd, Bauer and Fattal were arrested in July 2009 along the Iran-Iraq border. Their families say the three had been hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan when they accidentally strayed across the poorly marked border.

Iran has charged them with illegally entering the country and spying, in a case that has strained already tense relations between Iran and the United States.

Last week, Iranian officials said Shourd would be released on Saturday from Evin prison, where she has been held in solitary confinement. The move was seen by analysts as an act of clemency arranged by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to coincide with the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr. But the judiciary denied the release, citing legal issues, stoking speculation among experts of a rift inside the Iranian government over the case.