By Associated Press, The Washington Post
TEHRAN, Iran â€” Iranâ€™s foreign minister said Saturday that the courts are willing in â€œthe near futureâ€ to commute the prison sentences for two Americans convicted of spying. The Americansâ€™ lawyer, meanwhile, was in court trying to arrange a $1 million bail-for-freedom deal.
The release rests in the hands of the hard-line judiciary, and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi gave no clear timetable. He also raised the issue of Iranians held in U.S. prisons, suggesting the Americansâ€™ release might be drawn out to bring attention to inmates Iran wants freed.
In a case that has added to the acrimony and deep distrust between Iran and the U.S., Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, were detained along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009 with their friend Sarah Shourd. Shourd was released last September with mediation by the Gulf nation of Oman after $500,000 was paid.
The two men were convicted of illegally entering Iran and spying for the United States, and were sentenced to a total of eight years in prison each.
They denied the charges and appealed the verdicts, opening the way for the possible deal to free them in exchange for $500,000 bail each.
Salehi said at a news conference that Iranâ€™s judiciary was ready to commute the sentences as a gesture of Islamic mercy. But he did not give any clearer indication of when they could be released.
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