Interfaith Envoy Returns from Iran, Minus Hikers

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A U.S. religious envoy returned from Iran empty-handed Monday, after holding talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the release of two American hikers jailed on charges of espionage.

The delegation, made up of both Muslims and Christians, said in a statement that they'd pleaded with Iranian officials to release Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal on humanitarian grounds. 

"Our goal has been to foster interfaith ties, build a system of understanding and ask the Iranian leadership to show compassion and mercy for the American hikers by allowing them to come home," said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

"We can only hope the two men are freed soon on humanitarian grounds, and that our visit fosters a better dialogue between Iranian and American leaders of faith," he added.

Bauer and Fattal were arrested in July 2009 along with a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, on charges of spying after crossing into Iran while hiking. The trio has denied the charges.

Many believed predictions by Ahmadinejad that Bauer and Fattal would soon be released after paying $1 million in bail.

But in an apparent jab at Iran's president, the nation's religious judges said they were taking the bail offer under advisement.

So far, the hardline judiciary has set no date for the Americans' release, saying only that the court would be willing to free them in the "near future."

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