U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that she was confident Iran would free two U.S. hikers convicted of spying and rejected concerns about the delay in their release.
"At this point we are not at all concerned because we have received word through a number of sources, publicly and privately, that the decision will be executed... and that we will see their return to their families," she said.
Clinton, speaking to reporters after talks with Australia in San Francisco, said that it was not unusual for Iran to take time in implementing decisions and declined to speculate on whether there was a rift inside the regime.
"We have seen in the past some delays that have occurred after decisions were announced," Clinton said.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in interviews Tuesday that hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who have been held in Iran for more than two years, would be released imminently.
But Iran's judiciary, which is dominated by ultra-conservatives, said that no decision has been taken.
Iran convicted the young Americans of spying but they insisted they were stopped as they hiked in the border area with Iraq.
A third hiker, Bauer's fiancee Sarah Shourd, was released on bail in September 2010.
"It's very difficult for us to try to speculate as to the differences and battles that are going on within the leadership in Iran, to really understand exactly what the nature of that is," said U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking alongside Clinton.
The United States has tense relations with Iran dating from the 1979 Islamic revolution. Western powers accuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons, although the regime says its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.
Panetta declined to say if he shared the view of his predecessor, Robert Gates, who cautioned that a military strike on Iran would merely delay its nuclear program by a few years.
"We remain very concerned -- very concerned -- about their efforts to develop a nuclear capability and we have indicated our concerns directly to the Iranians," Panetta said.
"And we have indicated that it is important for them that if they want to become part of the international family that they have to take steps to stop progress in that area," he said.
"I am not going to talk specifically about what steps we would or would not take in order to make sure that doesn’t happen," he added.
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