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.

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soundoff (324 Responses)
  1. Rachel

    Why are most of these comments so mean and judgmental?
    Personally, I wish Sarah the best in her efforts to get her friends freed.

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

      personally,i wish Sarah,,,,,another airhead has emerged ladies and gentlemen,we'll keep you posted as the story developes..

      September 24, 2010 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • James

      Because only an idiot can be understanding to an idiot.

      September 24, 2010 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • michelle

      i wish them the best too but i really dont care what happens to them

      September 24, 2010 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • justuandme

      C'mon are you for real? You have to be pulling my leg.... Let me guess - you planning a trip to go caving in Afganistan arent you just like Dave mentioned in this post? bwahahaha!

      September 24, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • stillin

      This is a reply to Rachel..." why are people writing so mean?" because they are ANGRY that this dip is acting like what she and her fellow "hikers" were doing was so innocent, no problem. It's not "MEAN, people are mostly OUTRAGED and with good reason. They didn't post my other post but it asked where's the big health problem that got her out, suppoedly boycott the book is all I can advise.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  2. greg

    please shut up,cnn,don't you read the comments,nobody cares and we all are amazed at her stupidity,enough of her already!!!

    September 24, 2010 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Matt P.

      I care about them.

      Similarly I cared about the US sailors Justin McNeley and Jarod Newlove who went missing in Afghanistan in July, apparently because they went sightseeing in a real warzone. Foolish, perhaps... costly in terms of resources and the effort of those looking for them, but that doesn't prevent me from caring about them and hoping for their safe return. That story turned out tragically; hopefully Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal will make it home safely.

      September 24, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  3. Mark

    I'm glad she's released. But she and her friends brought this on their selves. They were hiking in northern Iraq where Amercians had not been hurt???? What? Uh, for a few years now, there's been a freaking war going on over there. Pop you white head out of a hole anywhere in the region and you're a target. That's just sheer stupidity. Living near Boulder CO, I see this kind of nut loving granola common sense alot.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  4. Phil

    Please stop giving this idiot time on TV. You are encouraging other morons to do the same stupid stunt.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  5. RigorMortis

    .." Welcome back hero..!! "

    September 24, 2010 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • justuandme

      LOL! I know right!
      In the meantime the real heores out on the field are going unoticed - typical

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

      excuse the typos

      September 24, 2010 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  6. jojo

    I have ZERO sympathy for them. What the heck were they doing hiking on the Iranian/Iraqi border in the first place?!!?? Utter stupidity. I will donate and feel sorry for the starving children of Africa, not for these idiots.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  7. blueblind

    This chick touched her face when she said, "We did not intend to cross the border..." That is a clear sign she is lying (body language).

    September 24, 2010 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  8. Mortimer

    How about an acknowledgement that hiking within vicinity of a hostile regime in an area with ill-defined borders probably wasn't the smartest thing to do – and how much regret she has for the cost (financial and otherwise) to those who pursued her release?

    September 24, 2010 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  9. adrian

    lemme guess, is a book about her captivity soon to be released? note to self...don't cross over into hostile nations; borders are placed for a reason.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  10. The Laughing Lizard

    Word is that she plans to skip her trial and let her friend and fiance rot in Iran. She will have a "medical condition" which prevents her from traveling just prior to her departure date.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  11. curious steve

    where do i go to make contribution for a monument or memorial for this national hero?

    she's AWSOME!


    September 24, 2010 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  12. Sagebrush Shorty

    I think we have heard enough from this GPS/map challenged whiner.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  13. curious steve

    we're about to nuke iran but iran should treat our spies and thieves like precious special guests that they are.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. JuanGuapo

    I really wish the media would stop giving people like this media exposure.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. jstskatnby

    Just a happy little know....watching the birds....the deer and her fawns eating....chipmunks a chirp'n. Honestly, who is going to go for a hike in the middle of a wasteland. A book...followed by a movie or a tv mini-series and lots of money. Sad.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
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