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

    bad dream for Ahmadinejad, Iran is trying to create confusion

    when iran say 9/11 is american creation, Ahmadinejad is doing something in vain, trying to create confusion...previously Ahmadinejad tried to exploit EU racism against jews .

    September 24, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Burbank

    I feel sorry for these poor hikers that went off course. I guess it gives watch where you're going a whole new meanning! I hope the other 2 get freed soon, it's obvious they were not spies, the Iranians are just being buttheads about it.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. todd

    Listen to her talk, she is not stupid, speaks amazingly clear on national television for someone that has spent the better part of a year in solitary confinement. Tough talk from folks on this comment section. There are lots of tough guys behind the keyboard. Put her back in prison? you people are twisted.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • axyz

      not 'tough' but i would say 'sensible'. how about confessing what she did was wrong and wouldnt advise anybody to dare such senseless acts.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. axyz

    hiking in one of the most dangerous places for Americans in the world is the most foolish act one could venture. And now all these interviews, glorification...gimme a break

    September 24, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jody

    I think the 3 idiots did it to get on the news. I mean do we not have anywhere to hike in America? What about the parents? As a mother myself, if my children told me they planned on hiking in a hostile country who simply would love to chop of our heads, I would flip out!!! Nice job parents and you got what you all deserved yeah retards.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Surprisingly enough, some people in the United States actually don't live sheltered lives and seek to explore the world. Unlike most of the uneducated people making posts, Iraq does not hate the U.S. There are groups within the country that do, of course, but the area they were in is actually a very safe area without Iranian interference. It's a tourist attraction. Iraq isn't a destroyed and ugly place like the media attempts to portray. There are hot spots and conflicts within the region, but it's not a backwoods country continuously engulfed by war.

      We do have places to hike in America. However, many people, like myself, find American scenery to be very bland when compared to other regions around the world. Our planet holds so much beauty, and we certainly are not the only country in the world that possesses such beauty.

      So, there's two types of people in this world. Some are content with just living a "normal" life by doing the normal 9 to 5 grind and maybe going on a trip to another state. Others are more free-spirited and seek to explore everything they can in their lifetime.

      I don't blame her or her companions for getting kidnapped. Iranian interference is unpredictable, and who would've known they would decide to do this publicity stunt. We helped negotiate her release the same way we would help negotiate the release of a U.S. citizen in any other part of the world. Neglect them, and you might as well neglect any American that is kidnapped or in trouble in Britain, France, Greece, Ireland, and the list goes on. We are obligated to protect are citizens. That is exactly what our government is doing while attempting to work with the Iranian government to secure their release.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. the_dude

    She looks like a younger, pre-botox pelosi or boxer. The same rat eyes and mannerisms like she is not comfortable in her own skin. What a freak please take her back iran for the love of all that is holy.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Peter Melzer

    It is difficult to believe that mature adults can be hiking on the border of a country at war, with the neighbors deeply invested in its internal conflicts, without expecting serious trouble ahead. The three lightheartedly and deliberately put themselves into harms way.

    Alas, let us hope the two remaining detainees will be released soon and return home safe and sound.

    That said, considering the fallout of the two detained journalists' release from North Korea earlier this year, we may expect proceeds from public appearances, movies and book deals. This income should be applied toward repaying the cost for the effort to bring the detainees back home.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mehdi General Dr Bad

    blabl blabl bla,, blab blab blab ablba,,blab blab blab,,

    September 24, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mehdi General Dr Bad

    more waste of time.stalling,word games,politics,denials, nothing new here.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mehdi General Dr Bad

    misleading headline. not one thing in all this has ot do with the actul headline.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mehdi General Dr Bad

    Wrong answer.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Sen

    While I would love to be positive, like the few of you who have made comments here, I cannot concur. It is wonderful that this area that they were in was a tourist spot. I can completely understand that they were in the area already and just looking for a nice place to spend a holiday. What these people did though was completely stupid. Do they deserve mercy? Mercy is not within my power to extend or deny. Prayers? I don't even pray for myself. They will face the rigors of reality and deal with it accordingly. The woman got lucky and was released. Perhaps the other two will be also. Do I care if they are not? Sorry, people die every day without so much warning. If you thought spending a vacation near zones that are not exactly friendly to your nation of origin was a good idea... well... Make of that what you will. Reality exacts its price better than anything I can think of. Perhaps their lives were meant to be a cautionary tale for others...

    September 24, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      That's perfectly understandable. We all have different ways of looking at things. The timing of them going hiking in Iraq definitely wasn't the best with the current heightened tensions caused by Iran's usual nonsense and Iraq's inability to form a stable government. Poor judgment? They probably should have waited a few years until a solid government is created that can also maintain political power.

      As far as the hikers, I don't care about them simply because I do not know them. However, life is precious and deserves to be cared about. These hikers have parents, siblings, and those that care about them just like you and me. Taking that into consideration, I find it hard to believe that most of the "tough" posters in these comments actually mean what they're posting.

      Your post is more realistic and understandable. It's better than those wishing they get killed or rot away.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • essoh

      I just love and agree with your comment A++

      September 24, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mehdi General Dr Bad

    so much for Nice.

    Mehdi General Dr Bad

    IN form Sarah ,Her Mother, and HER Lawyer Ther Bail Is now revoked.
    and they Both are now charged as well.
    Thye now have 72 hours to Return To iran Inshallah.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply

    September 24, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mehdi General Dr Bad

    and id o not care what Iran does or does not do, no matter what THEY Chose on anything , i am With them.
    YOU do not matter.
    keep TRYING To instigate.

    delete more messages.
    lie some more.
    while you hide.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Barry Soetoro

    She met the president of Iran?????????? Totally misleading headline.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
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