September 24th, 2010
04:24 PM ET

American hiker Sarah Shourd meets Iranian president

[Updated 4:23 p.m.] Freed American hiker Sarah Shourd and her mother, Nora, met Friday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York, a family spokeswoman said.


[Updated 9:16 a.m.] Sarah Shourd is happy to be back in the United States after being held for 14 months in an Iranian prison. The homecoming, as welcome as it was, is still bittersweet. Her companions, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are still being held. The three were arrested last year when they were hiking near the Iran-Iraq border. Sarah Shourd talked on CNN's "American Morning" about her ordeal and efforts to get her two friends free.

Kiran Chetry: I can't imagine the emotion you're going through. How are you physically and mentally after the release?

Sarah Shourd: Well, it is hard to explain. I mean, of course, I feel grateful. I wouldn't be free if it wasn't for a huge groundswell of supports of governments and people across the world from Desmond Tutu in South Africa to a homeless woman in San Francisco donating money for us. It is incredible. I know that the same people are doubling their efforts and no one's going to give up until Shane and Josh are with us.

John Roberts: I can't imagine the experience. One moment hiking out there in the country and then the next you're in Iran's notorious Evin prison.

Shourd: Nothing in life can prepare you for something like this. The only thing that got me through is thinking about my mother suffering and loved ones and I had to come back to them. I had to walk out strong and now I have to be stronger than ever. I didn't expect it to end this way for me. I mean, it is not over but I didn't expect to have my freedom be so bittersweet.

Chetry: Because they're still there and you, as you said, you know nothing. There's no information coming out. Have you heard anything from the Iranian government or anyone?

Shourd: No. It's always uncertain. There's no guarantees, no assurances. We're hopeful. This is a good precedent. I was released on humanitarian [grounds] and I feel confident they'll extend the same to my fiance and dear friend and I hope it is soon. This is too long. Now, our pain was invisible. Everyone is seeing the pain of our families which is in many ways just as bad. And in many ways worse, you know? But no one can see your pain when you're in prison. You're invisible. The guards, streaming down tears, slamming the door in my face and walk away. Now only I know what Shane and Josh are enduring. I can see them in the cramped little cell with very little sunlight and [they] only get out an hour a day and, you know, they exercise side by side on a space like the size of a towel. And they're wonderful, wonderful people. And I want the world to meet them.

Roberts: We've certainly got an idea of what your families were going through because we had Josh's brother, Alex and mom on [the show] a lot. We had your mom on one morning and we certainly know the pain that they were enduring but people wondering about the pain that you were in and how you were treated. I know you have said that some of your captors were nice. Some of them not so nice. Did they ever physically abuse you?

Shourd: No. No. I mean, it is all psychological. And it's just the hardest thing, of course, is being so alienated from your family. I begged and cried for a phone call and i didn't get it until i think the seventh month. I'm still unclear on the chronology. But, you know, by the time I got a phone call I lost hope that it was going to happen and so many ups and downs. You think it will be over and then goes on and on and on.

Chetry: More than a year following the story every step of the way and some viewers also were wondering how it all started. Can you just walk us through or just explain that day? You guys were hiking in Kurdistan and then everything changed in an instant.

Shourd: Yeah. My fiancee Shane Bauer and I have been fascinated by the region. We wanted to immerse ourselves in that part of the world to learn more about it and to be hopefully more of a bridge between the people in that region and the people in our country. So I taught in Damascus for a year and there's not a lot of green mountains in Damascus. It's a beautiful country.

Roberts: A lot of brown.

Shourd: Yeah. A lot of beautiful desert and craggy rocks and I had two friends that traveled in northern Iraq. It's not a war zone. Americans have not been hurt there. You know? Even while all of the violence was raging in the south. It wasn't happening in the north so it was an easy place. I only had a week off of work of my teaching job in Damascus so it was an easy, quick trip to some green mountains and we'd been assured by our research that it was safe and really nothing like this happened there before. Our story was completely unexpected and tragic. We did nothing wrong.

Chetry: Why didn't the Iranians believe you? I mean, they're accusing you of espionage-like charges. What was the point of that?

Shourd: I don't know if  I'll ever completely understand that but all I can say is we did nothing wrong. We meant no harm to the Iranian people. We did not intend to cross the border. It was unmarked. We were on a trail behind the tourist site. There were hundreds of families there - very popular spot by a waterfall and families picnic and I - I just think it's a huge misunderstanding more to do with the problems between the countries than with us as individuals.

Roberts: You said you got the idea, 'Wait a second. This is all political.'

Shourd: Yeah. Unfortunately, it's true. You know, I wouldn't be sitting here if there weren't countless people that believed in our innocence. I don't think there's a doubt in the world we didn't intend to go to Iran. We would never risk our safety in that way and put our families through this. You know?

Roberts: President Ahmadinejad is here this week and I know that you have wanted to try to get in touch with him. He was on with Larry King on Wednesday talking about whether or not Shane and Josh would get out. He said that's 'in the hands of the judge. I've made my appeal.' Do you think you will have a chance to meet with him?

Shourd: Yeah, well, I don't see why he wouldn't want to meet with us. I have no animosity towards him or the government. I want it to be resolved and I want it to be finished. And I think that it would be a really good opportunity to, you know, push this forward for us to meet each other.

Chetry: What would you say to him?

Shourd: I don't know if it's going to happen. I would just ask him to release my fiance and my friend for the same reasons he released me, you know? As a humanitarian gesture. This is not politics and governments and we don't deserve to suffer any longer and neither do our families.

Roberts: What do you think about the idea he fought for a prisoner swap? Would you support that?

Shourd: Well, you know, I'm not a politician. Honestly, this is not my area of expertise. I don't know how it should be resolved but it should be resolved and I want to continue to emphasize it's a humanitarian issue and I hope that it ends in a way that, you know, can move us forward.

Roberts: Yeah.

Shourd: Our country and Iran and create a better relationship between us.

Chetry: You know, in reading your accounts it was amazing that there were these small and few and far between moments of you that happened while you were in the prison. One was that Shane asked you to marry him there, right?

Shourd: Yeah.

Chetry: I notice you have a thread on your hand.

Shourd: Yeah.

Chetry: He made an engagement ring for you. Tell us about that.

Roberts: Hold it up. We'll get a shot.

Shourd: Oh, sure. Yeah. Shane's a romantic guy. It was just - you know, we see each other an hour a day outside and Josh stayed in the room so we could have some time alone and Shane said I have something to tell you. I said, I hope it's not bad because I'm having a really bad day and it was a beautiful moment.

Roberts: You were planning on asking him if he didn't ask you?

Shourd: Uh-huh. I was going to wait until after prison. He beat me to it. I'm glad because he said we'll be able to really believe in our future together and sustain us.

Roberts: I know you'll work hard to win their release and we'll keep following the story to the end. Great to see you this morning.

Shourd: Likewise.

Chetry: Best of luck. Such a strong person to be going through this and we wish this ends as you said very quickly. Thanks so much.

Shourd: Thank you.

Watch American Morning weekdays 6am to 9am ET. For the latest from American Morning click here.

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soundoff (324 Responses)
  1. Joe

    These people who get physically close to borders of countries we have either no ties with or who are hostile put the the U.S. national agenda at risk. They also put at risk the people who are tasked to watch for their welfare, such as consular officers. Their poor judgement should not be rewarded with publicity that will, no doubt, end up in a book or other financial gains. I also include those two women who were captured by the North Koreans.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. Robby

    I refuse to watch any interview or read anything this Stupid Ditch has to say. The dumb ditch shouldn't have been there in the first place, she illegally entered a foreign country and she is a celebrity for it. It doesn't matter if the President of Iran is a pin-head and that the US Govt. is in a whizzing contest with them. They broke the law.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Ralf the Dog

      They were on the correct side of the boarder at a very well known place. The reason they were captured and dragged across the boarder was that they were sold out by workers at their hotel. They did nothing wrong.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. David M.

    I thought she had some serious medical problems that needed attention. Or did she suddenly get healed?? Whatever. Why don't you go back and join your friends in prison. That's where all 3 of you belong for being such dopes.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jacquie

    Bah...give me a break. They were warned over and over again not to hike in the area they were picked up at. They were also warned about hiking without a proper and well trained guide. They were warned about the border being unmarked in certain areas. I love it how she changes her story and now says the area was deemed safe, yet upon interviewing the Kurdish police and other people they stated very clearly that they warn tourists (including them) NOT to go hiking in the area they were picked up at! Why? Because the border is UNMARKED and it is not 100% safe. I mean really, they shouldn't have been there in the first place. I also have no sympathy for these people.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. Allen Harris

    Why wasn't it mentioned in the interview that the kids were jewish?????? Maybe motive

    September 24, 2010 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • hmmmm

      Joshua Fattal is still there...there is more to this story than one could ever imagine.

      Congratulations to Joel Braverman High School students Aliza Braverman, Joshua Fattal, Rena Nasar, Mariella Reyzis and Ariel Tambor –
      Accepted to Write On For Israel (Class of 2010)!

      Write On For Israel is an intensive and exciting two-year program that trains a select group of high school students to become advocates for Israel through journalism. It teaches students about Israel, Zionism and the Arab-Israeli conflict and empowers them to become effective advocates through writing, broadcasting and public speaking. Sessions focus on Jewish and Israel history and the facts and myths of the current conflict, as well as confronting press bias and making Israel's case to the media. The seminars are taught by top educators and professional journalists and feature appearances by Israeli officials, IDF officers, college students, PR executives and other top professionals.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mehdi General Dr Bad

      They Are jew?

      September 24, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Because it's totally irrelevant to the story

      It's totally irrelevant if Sarah's father, who took little to no part in raising her, is Jewish. She is her own person, and furthermore, being Jewish has no bearing on whether one supports the Israeli government's illegal wars, occupations, blockades, and espionage/assassination operations. Bigoted, paranoid simpletons may have trouble comprehending such subtleties, but that's how it is.

      September 30, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dodie SkipAlong

    I cannot imagine going "hiking" in a war-torn part of the world where unstable and corrupt governments flourish, violence is commonplace, women are less than second-class citizens, and Americans are hated. I guess I'm more of a "let's hike in the Sierra's" kind of gal, being somewhat averse to torture, kidnap, murder, blah blah. But, that's just me. Let the chips fall where they may.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. FN Jerk

    Do you think she might have to disclose that she has been in prison on her next job application?

    September 24, 2010 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • jojo

      That's freaking hilarious! 🙂

      September 24, 2010 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • justuandme


      September 24, 2010 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. JasonInAtlanta

    Wow...Good job at asking the tough questions Kiran Chetry. Apparently nobody has the guts to ask her if it's right to bail people out when commit crimes in other countries. If she feels that she didn't do anything illegal, then follow up with "how about for doing something stupid".

    September 24, 2010 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  9. Fred

    The amount of ignorance in the comments for this article is painful.

    God knows why you think kurdistan is a war zone, when it is actually pro west and is not a war zone. Do you seriously think there are bullets flying around on every square inch of iraq?

    Iraqi witnesses also say Iranian revolutionary guard crossed over to iraqi soil took and took them into Iran at gunpoint, so why ignorantly spew that they must have passed the Iran border by accident?

    As for the extremely stupid "Well they deserve to be captured for going on vacation in a country that has a border near a country that doesn't like America". Lots of countries don't like america. I guess any American who ever goes on vacation again deserves to be kidnapped in a cross border operation?

    September 24, 2010 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • The Laughing Lizard

      Fred....Why is it that you are the ONLY person who doesn't find their actions to be selfish and stupid? Even if they didn't knowingly cross the border into Iran, any reasonable person would know that hiking anywhere near that area is nothing more than a fool's mission. They are undeserving of all this hype as well as all the money they are making from this self serving media tour. DUMB, DUMB, DUMB.

      September 24, 2010 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Gabe Jones

      Fred, I agree. On these news forums, "blame the victim" is the prevailing mentality.

      September 24, 2010 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • jennifer

      I know. I am seriously starting to think every American is uneducated. What a failure of our schools.

      September 24, 2010 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Scotty B

      I think most people are referring to the elevated risk that these people are taking and deem it to be unnecessary. They must have known that there was at least a chance of something like this happening. It's not really traveling at your own risk, when the government/other groups and people have to get involved.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • KP

      Thank you, Fred. Frankly you're the only voice of reason around here!

      These hikers weren't stupid... they were on vacation and got sucked into a political mess. The Iranian government is to blame for using Americans to further their own political agenda and hatred. Plenty of Americans travel to the Middle East and do not deserve to be imprisoned for doing nothing wrong.

      It shocks me how ignorant and insensitive the people commenting are... Haven't you been on vacation abroad and noticed the animosity towards Americans? I'm glad the State Dept. and countless other people are helping to free these hikers. It could happen to any American traveling abroad, and I think their tireless efforts are appropriate and necessary.

      Best wishes to a safe return for Sarah's friends and their families!

      September 24, 2010 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • yikes..

      Fred, I agree...illegal immigrants go for a hike along our borders all the time...they shouldn't have to worry about being pulled into a political mess either.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • hmmmm

      What do you think would of happened to a couple of Iranians that had gotten 'lost' and wandered across the Canadian-USA border?

      Greeted with warmth or assault rifle fire?

      September 24, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stephen

      I'm with you, Fred. It's sad how so many Americans believe that the rest of the world is a dangerous and scary place. Some of these commenters are going so far as to say "let them rot" or "if I were president it would be life in prison". These commenters are no better than the dictators they are afraid of. They actually believe that an innocent person deserves to spend the rest of their life in prison?? That's sociopathic. There's a whole world out there full of amazing countries to travel, and people shouldn't be afraid to do so. "Staying at home where it's safe" is playing right into the enemies' hands.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • WoCalla

      Thank you for taking the time to compose a well-thought statement as opposed to the moronic, impulsive, and ignorant statements made by anyone who seems to think they are perfect and provided an anonymous platform to spew stupidity across a forum. Now for the latter group: Many countries hate Americans; we also have stereotypes against other nations. By your logic, we should never be world travelers, or venture to understand other cultures. The facts in this incident in No Way parallel other cases of people illegally crossing borders (aka North Korea and a popular journalist). Please do not be so incredibly stupid and reinforce other nations' views of Americans by stating "why go to Iraq? Why go here? Why not stay at home??" Well idiots, Iraq has gorgeous, tourist areas, a rich culture, and amazing potential to teach open minds different views beside ones crammed in a little box wrapped with red, white, and blue ribbon. Europeans travel all the time to these areas and elsewhere because its encouraged.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mehdi General Dr Bad

      you are not suppose to mention Kurdistan, and yes it is a war zone.
      and in case you had not heard?
      obam can assinate YOU out side america no charges. no trial. nothing

      September 24, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Fred

    "Apparently nobody has the guts to ask her if it's right to bail people out when commit crimes in other countries"

    What crimes did they commit by being taken from Iraq to Iran at gunpoint exactly, Jason?

    September 24, 2010 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • JasonInAtlanta

      Proof that this happened? Didn't think so.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Root

      Jason, what are you even talking about? Please do research before posting.

      September 24, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bailoutsos

    It's going to be like the Jouquin Phoenix thing and Ahmadinejad was in on the whole thing. The world got punked.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  12. falconco

    Why didn't anyone ask about her health status? Has she sought medical opinions about her breast lump and pre-cancerous cells? I would think that would be her first priority, since she was released on "humane" conditions related to her health.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • WoCalla

      Well let's see.....
      Maybe because 1)health is an incredibly personal domain, so much that laws are instilled to ensure confidentiality. So, it's none of our business... Or maybe 2) for anyone being in love, knows that sometimes the most important thing isn't you and the little world you live in, but other people's welfare.... Or gee, 3)a million other reasons that don't concern the public because the problem doesn't even involve that.

      September 24, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. kevin John Gil

    Why does being an IDIOT,
    endangering yourself and others,
    costing the US time and money to rescue
    you make you FAMOUS?

    September 24, 2010 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  14. motogp1000

    no sympathy for these 3. this was a dumb move and now we reward them with air time and interviews.
    how can you justify hiking the border of a country that hates us and not expect something to happen. I'm sorry, but the fact that larry king ate up half of his interview time the other night inquiring about the remaining two hikers angers me even more. these people breached a country in a region that has strict laws regarding their borders. i have no sympathy for them. neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeext!!

    September 24, 2010 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  15. Scotty B

    I'm also planning new hiking trips in Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Gabe Jones

      Typical idiot. Syria is actually a very safe place to travel.

      September 24, 2010 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Scotty B

      Are you a Syrian Travel Agent?

      September 24, 2010 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Vanilla Gorilla

      Let's get creative and not miss a great opportunity
      please allow someone to take out a ten million dollar life insurance policy on you
      then lottery tickets could be sold at a $1.00 each
      a fund will then be founded in your honor for researchers trying to find a cure for stupidity

      September 24, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scotty B

      I guess I should have used sarcastic font?

      September 24, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • EW

      Scotty: you are wrong about Syria. I just spent considerable time working and travelling in Syria. It is not a democracy but it is not a warzone. Their cities are safer at night than our cities, and in the countryside everyone is willing to help if you get lost or need assistance. Obviously, getting near the Iranian border was a mistake... in retrospect. I've been near the Iranian border myself (in Turkey) and indeed there are many places on such borders where nothing is marked and nobody is around, just like the US border. Easy to get confused. So they made a mistake and b/c of global politics they are put in jail for a year (and counting) instead of 30 days or something. No need to dig them a grave just because you think they are stupid. How long do you think they should be jailed for their mistake? Do you think they are really proud of getting nabbed? Do you think they are bragging or something? No, she is trying to get her friends out of jail. Wouldn't you do the same for your friends? In global incidents such as this the key to getting resolution is keeping the story in the public and political eye. Otherwise they will rot in jail forever b/c their keepers want to use them as bargaining chips in political games.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
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