Lawyer: Iran to free U.S. hikers

A photo released by Iran's state-run Press TV shows U.S. hikers Shane Bauer, left and Josh Fattal during the first session of their trial at the Tehran Revolutionary Court Feb. 6, 2011. AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 9:25 a.m. Eastern.

The Iranian lawyer for two U.S. hikers imprisoned in the Islamic Republic for two years on charges of entering the nation illegally tells CBS News the paperwork to see them released on bail has been signed off, and they will be out of prison Wednesday.

Masoud Shafiei says the bail document was signed Wednesday by a third judge, whose vacation had delayed the process for Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. The men have spent 782 days in prison, cut off from their families, friends and all contact with the outside world.

Shafiei said the last remaining hurdle - a "minor" technical hurdle involving the transfer of $1 million in bail money to the correct account in Tehran - was resolved, and he was on his way to Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where Fattal and Bauer have been held, to pick them up.

"Maybe five minutes, maybe three hours. I have done my job," Shafiei told Reuters when asked when the hikers would be freed.

A car carrying two Omani diplomats arrived at the prison amid reports that the Arab nation's government had arranged the bail payment. The Omani delegation, plus the Swiss Ambassador to Iran and Shafiei, entered the prison not long after. The Omanis and the Swiss Ambassador then left, but there was no sign of Shafiei or the hikers.

The hikers' families, who have been glued to the news coverage of the process unfolding in Tehran, say they believe the men will be freed Wednesday, and they're "super excited" about the prospect.

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The process of actually getting them out of jail could take minutes or hours, and CBS News' Seyed Bathaei says it is still possible Iran's justice ministry or prison officials will try to complicate the release with any number of procedural delays - but all signs indicated the necessary hoops had been jumped through, and the men's release was imminent.

"Frankly, until our hikers are out of Iran and back on U.S. soil, it would be premature to celebrate," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday morning on "The Early Show", adding that American officials remained hopeful the men would be free in the near future.

Bathaei says, given past experience, the men would likely head from Evin straight to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran - which has looked after Washington's interests in Iran since official diplomatic ties with the U.S. were severed.

A Swiss Embassy convoy arrived at Evin prison Wednesday morning, but the ambassdor was made to wait outside the compound until Shafiei arrived with the signed bail documents.

Bauer and Fattal could be on a plane at Tehran International airport, headed to an as-of-yet unclear destination outside the country, later Wednesday. It is likely they will head first to Oman.

Fattal and Bauer were arrested along with their friend Sarah Shourd when they allegedly crossed the poorly marked border between an Iraqi area of natural beauty, and Iran.

Shourd was released in September 2010 on $500,000 bail and returned to the United States. Shourd's case is officially still open in Iran, but she has campaigned vigorously for her friends' release since returning to the U.S.

All three were initially accused of being U.S. spies, but their detention was used largely as a bargaining chip by the Iranian regime in it's ongoing standoff with the United States government over the Republic's nuclear aspirations.

"The legal process regarding the hikers was never a normal one," prominent Iranian attorney Muhammad Mustafaei, who has not been involved in the men's case, told CBS News last week. "They were actually taken as hostages. They were used by the Supreme Leader because of the hostility that exists between Iran and the U.S."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in New York this week for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, was widely seen as intent on securing the hikers' released to coincide with his time on U.S. soil.

But Ahmadinejad's own tense relations with the hardline Muslim clerics who actually hold all the power in Iran has led to serveral false-starts for the hikers' release.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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