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. supidityofgov

    Another nice thing would be to keep her boyfriend in jail so they don't have stupid kids!

    September 24, 2010 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. Me

    Duh....Yeah, the entire world should be in jail except some clowns like you. What was she doing on Iranian mountain, couldn't she find any better place for hiking, I mean give me a damn break. She has been treated better then most of the poor Mexican get treated for crossing illegally in the US

    September 24, 2010 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  3. mike

    Why were you even hiking there??? Its like saying, "hey, I want to go hiking in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan because it is soooooooo beautiful there!!!"

    September 24, 2010 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Pete

    Whenever Americans get into this kind of trouble it's never as if they did anything worng. When anyone travels to a foreign country regardless of what country you take the risk of being caught up in something like this. And Iraq...than Iran? You must be kidding me? "Oh the people need our help..they're so nice and loving..and peace for all..." BLAH BLAH BLAH. You've got to be really stupid and I think she's really lucky! It's the price the stupid American pays and her boyfriends are equally stupid and will probably be there for a while. I do NOT feel sorry for these idiolistic and very stupid young people.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. mike

    For the 8 Iranians being held captive here, where are their families going on world TV pleading their cause??? Where is the international support for releasing these captives??? Does anyone not see anything wrong with this??? Most Arab prisoners leave US prisons and end up joining some terrorist group. Sarah has said nothing inflammatory towards Iran. She is not going to join some anti-Arab/Iranian group!!!

    September 24, 2010 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Brooklyn

      Hey Mike,
      DUH!!! She can't say anything anti-Arab/Iranian bro! Her dumb-ass friends are still there being held captive!! Get it!? Also, that second part of your post is ridiculous! The "Arab Prisoners" you speak of were ALREADY involved in some sort of anti-American cause so it follows that they are released to do what they were ALREADY DOING. As opposed to some dumb American who was "just taking a stroll" in one of the most dangerous places on earth, thinking it was her God-given right as an American! Which by the way is why so many foreigners hate us so much! We think the world is our play-thing!

      September 24, 2010 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jim Fawcett

    Send her back to Iran with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What the hell were she and her two companions doing the hell over there in the first place? Leave them all in Iran. We don't need them back here.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. Philsman

    I read that she was/is a journalist, a teacher and an activist.

    All these1 accomplishments and she did not even have an iota of thought or common sense. Her team even carried a map with them. Didn't they even seek help on map reading before venturing out to hike in a war zone. Or maybe they still have not heard that Iraq was a war zone.

    They also must have had ear plugs that they didn't realize that Iran was and still is rattling its sabers at the U.S.

    Now she comes back to the U.S. expecting to be welcomed as a hero. And now wonders why not a lot of TV companies are willing to take her on as a guest in their shows. She should read the comments on all the articles written about her. 98% negative

    September 24, 2010 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  8. okay

    Just send her back already..dam she's annoying..what a waste of air

    September 24, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  9. RigorMortis

    ...girl,damage control is not working...

    September 24, 2010 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  10. Ian

    Ignorance does not excuse breaking the law. What were the Iranians supposed to say? :Ohh, you didn't relaize you were in Iran? ok, well that is different here let us help you back to Iraq, have a nice day"

    The three of you are morons. You know Iran HATES the US, why give them an excuse? I candidate for Darwin of the Year award for people doing stupid things and actually livng though.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mehdi General Dr Bad

    Sallam wr wb = Peace,
    This Womans Mother Lied to get her released for " Female Medicial Conditions". It was a LIe.
    Once again americas coward leaders hide while they have this Woman beg and they play games.
    You all also forget " Jill carrol".

    INshallah IT is up TO " I " What happens with this Woman.
    Here is YOUR Chane to give YOUR reason's why I Should NOT revoke her Bail as WEll as Charge her MOther and Lawyer for LYING.
    "Sarah " needs to Find " Jill ", and have a " Chat".
    oh, and YOU Smarted off to the Wrong Man.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  12. Please

    They aren't very good researchers if they thought the Kurdish region of Iraq is I thought Berkeley was a good school.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rob

    To all the conspiracy theorists out there... if they were CIA, we wouldn't know this happened. They were stupid – not sure what exactly the CIA would be gaining by having these three dopes hiking in the mountains anyway.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      I highly doubt they were CIA, I am sure they thought they could sneak into Iran, get a story from one of the villagers about the elections for their blog. Unfortunately their calculated risk wasn't so calculated and they got caught.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rob

    Or more properly put – one hiker = CIA (MAYBE), but the fact that there were three of them lessens that possibility greatly...

    September 24, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  15. foil

    Someone please tie her to a camel and send her back!!!!

    September 24, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
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