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State Department Following Reports that Iran May Free Berkeley Hikers

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday September 13, 2011 - 10:37:00 PM

The U.S. State Department is closely following reports that the Iranian government may soon release two University of California at Berkeley graduates who have been detained in Iran on espionage charges for more than two years. 

Spokesman Noel Clay said the State Department is "encouraged" by what the Iranian government is saying about the possible release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29. 

According to a transcript of an interview with NBC's "Today Show," Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the network that he thinks Bauer and Fattal "will be freed in a couple of days." 

"They will be free," he said. 

Bauer, Fattal, and a third UC Berkeley graduate, Sarah Shourd, were arrested on July 31, 2009, after embarking on a hike in Iraq's Kurdistan region near the Iranian border. 

Iran has accused them of espionage, but the hikers and their families say they aren't spies but instead were detained after they accidentally crossed an unmarked border into Iran. 

Iran released Shourd, 32, who is engaged to Bauer, last September because she was in poor health. Shourd announced in May that she would not return to Iran for a trial because she is suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Ahmadinejad told the "Today Show" that the three hikers "illegally crossed our borders and they were arrested by the border guards." 

"We tried last year to free one of the three persons and we are also trying to make arrangements for their freedom, for the freedom of the other two," Ahmadinejad said, according to the transcript. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters today that "we have followed this very closely," according to a transcript provided by her office.  

"We are encouraged by what the Iranian government has said today, but I am not going to comment further than that," Clinton said. 

"We obviously hope that we will see a positive outcome from what appears to be a decision by the government," she said. 

Clay said the State Department hasn't had any direct confirmation from Iran about the fate of Bauer and Fattal because the U.S. doesn't have direct diplomatic ties with the country. 

He said the Swiss Embassy represents U.S. interests in Iran and is acting as an intermediary.