Image: File photo of American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal attending the first session of their trial in Tehran
Ho / Reuters

TODAY   |  September 14, 2011

New hurdle for US hikers jailed in Iran

Two Americans arrested while hiking in Iran and convicted of spying will not be released immediately -- as had been pledged by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- according to an Iranian official. TODAY’s Ann Curry reports.

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>>> we begin on wednesday, with the potential hurdle in the release of two american hikers jailed in tehran for two years now. ann is in tehran with the latest. ann, what's going on. good morning.

>> that's a good question, matt, thanks so much. iran 's judiciary today said the release of two american hikers quote was not imminent. but at the same time it did not deny that the two would soon be freed. this could actually be a power play by the judiciary and also there seems to be some confusion over the translation of the word "imminent." and all this is happening as nbc news is learning surprising new details about the behind-the-scenes negotiations that led up to this move. it was iraq's president, who personally negotiated the release when he was in iran last week. the iraqi embassy in iran tells nbc news. a spokesman also telling us it was families of shane bauer and josh fattal that requested the president of iraq get involved. the families got the first word that a deal was being made when they were told about president ahmadinejad 's comments in our interview on "today." the families saying in a written statement, they are overvideoed, shane and josh's freedom means more to us than anything and it's a huge relief to read that they are going to be released. many americans want to know how it could be that iran could sentence the two young hikers, josh fattal and shane bauer , to eight years in prison for spying. what is the evidence against them? at first, that question drew a tough answer from iran 's president.

>> translator: they have very tough loss. we have the same last year in the country.

>> then came a surprise.

>> translator: we are also trying to make arrangements for their freedom. for the freedom of the other two. i think these two will be freed in a couple of days.

>> in a couple of days?

>> translator: in a couple of days.

>> within hours after the president uttered these words, bail was set for the two young americans at half a million dollars each.

>> unfortunately, is certain until josh and shane have actually left iranian air space .

>> bauer and fattal, convicted by iran last month of illegally entering the country and spying for america, have already spent 775 days in prison. the question now is, what condition are they in?

>> translator: these two people are having a very good condition here in prison. it's like staying in a hotel.

>> an unusual description of conditions inside iran 's notorious evin prison . bauer 's fee iancee was taken into custody with them in 2009 and was released a year ago. her bail, half a million dollars, paid by an unknown party. on tuesday, secretary of state hillary clinton responded with cautious optimism.

>> we obviously hope that we will see a positive outcome from what appears to be a decision by the government.

>> welcome news, just ten days before president ahmadinejad is scheduled to address the united nations . and once again, appear on the world stage.

>> well certainly one of the motivations likely is that as ahmadinejad comes to the united nations ' general assembly next week or so, that he will have something positive to ride on.

>> sources within iran 's government tell nbc news the release is expected, still expected within the next coming days. the story is on the front page of the impending release of every newspaper in iran . and in some of the newspapers, the hikers are being called spies, and the question is being asked, why would iran release them now? matt, back to you.

>> it's a tough story to follow. we thank you for your reporting on that and