Release of American Hikers Being Delayed by Internal Iranian Politics?

There is yet another hitch in the long-anticipated release of two American hikers held in Iran for more than two years.

Now it has been reported that the release of Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal has been yet again delayed due to the absence of a judge's signature on a release order.

Masoud Shafii, the attorney representing the jailed hikers, told ABC News, "I went to the court as I was told [by the judiciary], but the judge whose signature we needed is not back to work yet … They said they will contact me as soon as the judge comes back to work."

Still, there is speculation that the continued incarceration of the Americans may be owing to Iranian politics, more specifically, a growing rift between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country's ruling clerics, who apparently control the courts.

Bauer and Fattal, along with a third travel companion, Sarah Shourd, had been hiking in northern Iraq when they were taken into custody by border guards after they apparently strayed into Iranian territory. In September of 2010, Shourd was released due to medical reasons, leaving Bauer and Fattal behind.

Expectation of their release began more than a week ago when President Ahmadinejad told NBC that they would be released in a couple of days, in what he described as a "humanitarian gesture."

According to ABC News, sources in Iran have indicated that it is unlikely Bauer and Fattal will be released while the Iranian president, who is attending the United Nations General Assembly, is in New York.

The speculation is that Ahmadinejad's rivals may be delaying the process to prevent the Iranian president from gaining traction on the world stage.

The latest delay comes a day after a group of four U.S. Christian and Muslim leaders who had travelled to Iran hoping to return with the two Americans said that their release would be soon.

The delegation expected that, after meeting for more than an hour on Saturday with Ahmadinejad and other government officials, the release of the Americans would be imminent.

"We have been promised that our visit was productive and helped accelerate the release of the hikers," Nihad Awad, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Monday.

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