Religious Envoy Returns From Iran Without US Hikers

A group of U.S. Christians and Muslims made their way to Iran in an attempt to free two Americans but returned empty-handed Monday.

The religious envoy met with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and both hoped that Shane Bauer and Josh Fattel would be released on humanitarian grounds before the U.N. General Assembly meeting this week.

Instead, they were met with another challenge as the judge whose signature is needed on the papers for bail was on vacation. Attorney Masoud Shafiei told The Associated Press he could not complete the paperwork on the $1 million bail deal because a second judge who must sign the document is on vacation until Tuesday.

The two hikers who are accused of spying after crossing the Iran border in July 2009 have denied the charges of trespassing and espionage. Bauer and Fattel, who have already been held for two years, were sentenced last month to eight years in prison.Their friend and third hiker Sarah Shourd was released in September 2010 and had gone through a similar ordeal with Iran's cleric and the president promising her release.

Iranian president Ahmadinejad and the country's cleric are at differences again. The country's ruling clerics control the courts and are making a point to remain in charge of this case.

Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, told AP Saturday the courts are inclined to change the Americans' sentences in the "near future" as a gesture of Islamic mercy, but did not say when the pair could be released.

Ahmadinejad has said he will have the two out in a matter of days but no date has been set.

Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced Ahmadinejad did not have the power to release the hikers.