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Americans' release from Iran clouded by Iranian politics, relations with U.S.

TEHRAN, Iran — The proposed bail-for-freedom deal for two Americans jailed as spies looked increasingly Wednesday like a repeat of last year's release of their companion: Quarrels between Iran's judiciary and president, and then a private jet dispatched by the sultan of Oman for the captives' first leg home.

But even as Washington expressed hope that Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal could be nearing the end of more than two years in custody, the details of when — or even if — they will be freed remained clouded amid the complexities of internal Iranian politics and third-party diplomacy between Washington and Tehran, two longtime foes.

The first twist came from Iran's powerful judiciary, which said it was still reviewing the $1 million bail provisions — and handing a potentially embarrassing rebuke to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after his prediction that the Americans could be released in a matter of days.

The statement by the hard-line judiciary appeared to be a message that only its officials — and not the president — can set the terms of any possible release. Ahmadinejad is locked in a bitter power struggle with Iran's ruling clerics, who control the courts.

It also could be a swipe at his hopes of timing the release of Bauer and Fattal with his expected arrival in New York next week for the U.N. General Assembly session.

Just hours after the judiciary's declaration, however, the gulf state of Oman dispatched a private plane to Tehran, the Associated Press said it learned from an official of Oman's Foreign Ministry. AP said the Omani official gave no further details on any possible timetable for the release of the Americans, who were detained along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009 along with friend Sarah Shourd.

The Americans' defense attorney, Masoud Shafiei, told AP he is moving ahead with the bail arrangements with Swiss Embassy officials, who represent U.S. interests in Iran because there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Americans' release from Iran clouded by Iranian politics, relations with U.S. 09/14/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 8:02pm]
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