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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Filed under: Hikers • Iran • TV-American Morning
soundoff (324 Responses)
  1. Mike

    Screw these idiot hippies. We need to be more concerned about Private Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held captive in Afghanistan or Pakistan for over a year now.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • bbnx

      RIGHT ON! I agree completely....... These moron spies get more attention than our POWs!

      September 24, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. NNN

    a book deal for her coming soon?

    September 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Don

    Ah so many heartless wretches here. Go and pluck yourself in the middle of a wooded mountain in a country you aren't familiar with, and see if you can tell when you've crossed over an unmarked border while on a hiking trail. I hope none of you ever have to suffer half as much for your disgusting and profound ignorance as this woman did for their mistake.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Heartless, no...Sensible, yes. Who would even be there in the first place on a hiking trip? If she was dumb enough to put herself in that position, then she deserved what she got. You're the one displaying profound ignorance. I hope you're embarrassed and turning a little red by your prior post.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Greg

    I smell patchouli oil when I look at her. Get me a bucket....

    September 24, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. the_dude

    Please someone punch her right in the face. Please someone that is all I am asking. Punch her in the face and ship her back to iran with a note, "Keep her we dont want her back".

    September 24, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JohnnyJett and the Dirty Socks

    Keep you granola bar eating, wheat grass drinking, hemp sweater wearing, arm-pit hair growing keester in a safe country. Really!! PS- I hope it work out as well for the other 2 hikers.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Frankie

    I am glad she is out. However, next time why don't you hike in Yosemite instead of Iran? Stupid

    September 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Scott

    She's an idiot like her two friends back in Iran. How completely naive to think that they could walk around the border area of Iraq and Iran and get away with it. What do you think would happen if I went to the DMZ in Korea and walked around? I'd either get shot or be thrown in prison, or both.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Steve

    Just don't get it. Your out with your friends one Saturday night and decide it would be great to go hiking in Iraq, right next to Iran. Just don't get it.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Michael

    I don't think any of you read the story (or can read for that matter) and just spouting off rhetoric of come upance and justified imprisonment. She worked in the Middle East already, not the prodginy of the well to do, and went hiking with two men in Northern Iraq, a region controlled by the Kurds and pershmerga and not under any sectarian violence. It's a thriving part of Iraq, one that resisted Saddam and wholly allied to the US cause of invasion. History lesson aside, they crossed an unmarked border, or at least that's what Iranians are saying. It's funny how you slack jaw fa–ots will take the word of Iranians officials over that of some Americans, talk about idiocracy. You know what, I hope they were on a mission by the CIA, doing work for our government, then the rest of you can spout off how you're glad some CIA operatives got caught and got what they deserve. Idiots...

    September 24, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • anishinabe

      If you americans stayed home and minded your own business the world would be a better place, let the other countries deal with their own issues!

      September 24, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • HI5

      There are a lot of hippy-libs like her.....I am thinking about Rachel Corrie for instance....who go to "learn the culture", create "bridges" among the people....all worthwhile goals which would be nice to perform in a country like the US. But the whole world is not like the US. The freedoms we enjoy here are just not true for the majority of population outside US. They have other issues which are more important – like National Security, Terrorism, Espionage, Succession movements...Into this volatile mix comes this hippy-lib to mountaineer – what an idiot. I am sorry. She worked in Syria right? Well Syria and Iran are allies – so why did the Iranians get her and her fellow idiots? Just to get at the USA. Period. Plain and simple. They got some traction out of these. The bail money was a terrible embarrassment for Ahmedhnijab, I tell you – if not that minor piece of inconvenience, he would have taken all the glory.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CatfishMammy

    She no need mix emotion she need mix drank!

    September 24, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Hi5

    What an idiot.

    I just had to get that off my chest. Now I feel better.

    Thank you.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |




    September 24, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • JasonInAtlanta

      Yes...the soft ball questions from CNN during this interview was a little infuriating for me to read.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • She's doing interviews to help get her friends out of jail

      It's called a "media campaign." It's what you do when you have loved ones in jail to put pressure on their captors to release them. You exchange time with media outlets (who want to rack up page views/ratings) for a chance to increase your friends' public profile so hopefully someday Hilary will sit down with Mahmoud and say, "I'll trade you your shlubs (Shahram Amiri and Amir Hossein Ardebili) we kidnapped for our shlubs (Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal) you kidnapped," and hopefully, Mahmoud will say "Deal! But please throw in an XBox... your damn embargo means I don't get to play video games, so I'm forced to play with bigger toys."

      September 30, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. C Shepard

    The kidnap happened because Ahmadinejad has low popularity in his own country and wanted to exploit Americans to throw red meat at his fanatics. Iran's government is PURE EVIL and I would not put it past them to kidnap Americans from any country close to Iran. People who are bashing Sarah Shourd are validating Ahmadinejad and his "right" to keep the other two. Way to go. Her story seems rational to me. Many people rarely travel more than 30 miles from home and can't understand people who want to experience the world. They were in a safe area of Iraq until the Iranians came.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. greg


    September 24, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
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