Delegation hoped to bring U.S. hikers home from Iraq

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, is shown during a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Iran, Sept. 17. (CNS/Reuters)

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick and three Christian and Muslim colleagues hoped to bring home two American hikers being held in an Iranian prison, but the deal to release the men still had not been worked out by the time they left Tehran for the U.S. Sept. 18.

Speaking with reporters at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington late this afternoon upon their return to the U.S. from a six-day trip to promote religious dialogue, delegation members said the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal was delayed until a judge who could sign off on the agreement returned from a summer vacation tomorrow.

“What we wanted to do was to push the button forward that these young kids could get back. And the difficulty, of course, was related to the judiciary hang-ups,” Cardinal McCarrick told Catholic News Service.

Bauer and Fattal have been the subject of international appeals since they and Sarah Shourd were arrested while hiking near the unmarked mountainous Iran-Iraq border July 31, 2009. Iran has maintained the hikers were CIA spies and entered the country illegally.

Shourd was released for humanitarian reasons a year ago.

The men were convicted after a trial last month and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Cardinal McCarrick said the delegation, which included Niha Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Larry Shaw, chairman of the council’s board, and Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, was in Iran to meet with religious  leaders to continue discussions which have taken place for five years to promote better understanding.

The group ended up meeting Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for an hour Sept. 17.

While Ahmadinejad has said the release of the hikers was imminent, it is Iran’s judiciary who has the ultimate say in the case.

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