TEHRAN — The lawyer of two American hikers convicted of spying in Iran told AFP on Sunday their release on bail has been delayed since a judge whose signature is needed is on leave.

"I went to the court asking them what is the latest and they told me that the second judge is on leave until Tuesday. So I am going there on Tuesday," Masoud Shafii said.

"I am always an optimist and inshallah (God willing) it will be over since the case is going through its natural and legal course," he responded when asked if he is expecting the case to be over soon.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in interviews on Tuesday that Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who have been held in Iran after being arrested near the mountainous Iraq-Iran border in July 31, 2009, would be released imminently.

But the judiciary, dominated by ultra-conservatives, said a day later that no decision had yet been taken and that it was studying a request by the lawyer to post bail.

"Many heads of state mediated for their release and we have forwarded their messages to the relevant bodies and we hope that the judiciary will treat them with Islamic compassion," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying by the Iranian media on Sunday.

On Friday Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP in Baghdad that his nation's leaders, including the president and prime minister, have repeatedly called on Iran to release free the hikers.

Iranian media reported on Sunday that top members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), in addition to two Christian pastors, are in Tehran pleading the hikers' release in meetings with Ahmadinejad.

In addition, Mohammad Javad Larijani the head of Iran's High Council for Human Rights was quoted on the Fars news agency as saying that, "Currently there are two American pastors in Tehran for consultations for their release... in this regard the interest of the regime will be taken into consideration within the framework of the law." He did not elaborate.

Salehi on Saturday asked the US government to "show goodwill" by releasing "Iranians detained in the US."

The Islamic republic accuses the United States of illegally holding more than a dozen Iranian citizens in prison, some of whom have been charged with breaking international embargoes on Iran.

Bauer and Fattal were arrested along with a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, who left Iran in September last year after being granted bail on humanitarian and medical grounds.

As with her two jailed friends, Shourd's bail had also been set at $500,000 and was paid through Oman, a US Gulf ally that maintains friendly relations with Iran.

"Everything is in place to post bail (for Fattal and Bauer) and to have them released, except for the signature of a judge" to post bail, Shafii said Saturday.

He told AFP on Wednesday that he had been officially notified by the court that his clients can be released after posting bail, but he still lacked the signature of one of the two judges who have to validate the document before the process can begin.

He did not specify who would pay the bail, as the United States has no diplomatic relations with the Islamic republic.

On August 21, Bauer and Fattal were each sentenced to eight years in prison by a revolutionary court in Tehran on charges of espionage and illegal entry. They have appealed against the ruling.

All three have consistently maintained that they innocently strayed into Iran while hiking in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday she was confident Iran would free Fattal and Bauer, and rejected concerns about the delay in their release.