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. Kay

    She says they were directed to a waterfall by Kurds (whose language they didn't understand). What kind of idiots go to northern Iraq in the first place? She was on holiday from a teaching job in Damascus and northern Iraq was the only place she could think of to visit? And now she claims she will go back if necessary to save her fiance and friend. I think she should receive some award for the most annoying person in the news and the "private source" should have donated the money to some charity.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Mtka

      Early reports from natives of that area stated that they were instructed NOT to go to that area because it was known to be unsafe.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Vince

    Am I wrong for not feeling sorry for this woman? How irresponsible and stupid was it, as Americans, to go hiking near the Iranian border? They put their families through hell, compromised our country, and gave political aid to our enemies. I don't feel one bit sorry for Sarah Shourd or her stooge friends. She should be made to pay back the money that was spent bailing her out. What's your next hiking trip going to be Sarah? Afganistan? Iraq? Gaza Strip?

    September 24, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. rfgranma

    Call me crazy if you want. I'm a 70 year old grandmother and no I wouldn't like it if one of my children or grandchildren was held by iran. But then again, mine are not dumb enough to go hiking there either. But i just do not have a lot of sympathy for anyone that is dumb enough to hiking or or near the Iraninan border. I want anyone that enters this country held and prosecuted. So what is the difference? Even though Iran is an evil country; they still have a right to secure their borders. Maybe that is the one thing that the United States could learn from them.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mtka

    Sarah said "nothing can prepare you for something like this." I disagree. A carefully planned trip and you could've avoided the situation all together.

    "The border was unmarked." ??? What were you expecting? A white picket fence?

    September 24, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. kizmiaz

    I cannot feel sorry for this person. She and her cohorts made a very stupid choice. I hate it they are that stupid. But they made the choice. Now they have to pay for it.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Vanilla Gorilla

    this is false drama in one way the Iranians my have done the rest of a huge favor by keeping them from spawning another complete idiot – as least until the other two are released
    any media time spent on her and the two still in Iran is a waste of resources
    assuming that they are reasonably intelligent – I could be wrong here though
    at least Lohan can blame substance abuse – can't cure stupid
    maybe the Iranians should have just kept her – then we would not have to listen to her whining

    September 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. soaringbrain

    I hope all of you judgmental people out there make a terrible mistake someday. I also hope people blog and post how stupid you are. Everyone makes mistakes, some big some small. Shame on you for being the kind of person to wish someone else to rot in jail for something so innocent. Don't you think she and her cohorts have paid a heavy enough price without your ridicule and judgments?

    My heart goes out to these people. Yes, they were stupid, yes they made mistakes. Yes they deserve to come home now.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Soar, don't feel so sorry for her. She will write a book, get a movie deal and make millions of dollars. Only to continue to promote stupidity as a means to get ahead in this world. I am, like many others here are just tired of people benefiting from stupidity and having every resource available at their disposable. Meanwhile we have hard working, intelligent people loosing their job, pensions, and even health with no help at all.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Nah, I think they need to stay in a little longer to contemplate their great decision to go hiking in a war torn hostile environment. It's called accepting responsibility for your actions.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. anishinabe

    Typical white person thinking they can go anywhere they want, should have left her there instaed of wasting all the money it took to get her free.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Racists much???

      September 24, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. SunnySkies

    And not a single question about the &500,000 "bail" money (or was it blackmail) as reported in the press? What a soft and inconsequential interview.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bbnx

    This girl makes me sick. There was no "mistake" here. They were "hiking" in an area where the border is unmarked and "invisible" as she described it earlier today. They had no business being there UNLESS they were guilty as charged. As for her deserting her FIANCE and the other guy cause she had an "illness"....... Wow. With friends liker her..........

    September 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joe

    Again. A complete waste of our country money, time and energy. Tell me Whay in the name of god were they hiking in an area like that. They probably are spies. Let Iran have her.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Sam Wilson

    Common Sense demands that a foreigner MUST have permission (Visa or Visa Waiver) to enter, prior to cross into that country, regardless of the mode or reason to enter.

    Just imagine an Iranian tourist, with a Valid Visa for Mexico or Canada on Iranian Passport "accidently" crosses into the United States, would that be any different? (with NO US Visa )

    Why nobody is asking her, if she and her friends had a valid Visa for Iran (esp. when they were hiking on a unmarked Border area)?

    September 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. iswimnaked

    I'm hiking North Korea next summer.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joe

    Who believes these 3 are not spies? I mean – its the biggest war torn part of the world. WHO decides to go hiking in the middle of chaos? I do not go down to a street corner where the Bloods and the Crips fight over and that is down the block. Let alone go across the globe to "hike" is the most dangerous place on earth. Hope they got some good intel worth their captivity.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. David

    "Nothing in life can prepare you for something like this." – really, so you just went off into a worn torn region of the world with no afterthought to your safety? Man UC Berkeley has really lowered it's standards for critical thinking since I was a student there.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don W

      I can not believe people would vacation in HELL .I think they did it to dare the iranians to make a big deal out of it . So when they got out they could right a book . They make me SICK I think even GOD would of told them to stay away because they are in danger

      September 24, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
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