Saberi Goes on Hunger Strike, Chicago-Area Students Rally in Support

When asked whether ABC News could visit the detained journalist to see whether she is safe, the Iranian president responded, "Let's see. We'll see if our judicial regulations allow for that, sure. But if they do not allow for that, no. I'm afraid not."

The judiciary office would not allow ABC News to take photographs or get past the gates in Tehran.

For the first time since she was detained, Saberi's parents gave details about the circumstances of the arrest of the former Miss North Dakota.

Akiko Saberi said her daughter was arrested at her apartment at night. The police went through her things and took her away.

Reza Saberi said, "She said first they coerced her, they scared her. They threatened her that if she doesn't sign it, they will kill her."

He said his daughter signed the confession after she was promised that she would be released if she did. Reza Saberi added that the confession does not have legal grounds because lawyers were not present at the signing. Saberi later recanted in the presence of her lawyer and in court.

Saberi was working in Iran for NPR, ABC News and other outlets at the time of her arrest, even though she lost her government-issued accreditation in 2006. Saberi was initially arrested for buying alcohol, which is a crime in Iran. She was later cited for working as a journalist without legal credentials and, earlier this month, days before her trial, Iranian officials charged her for being a U.S. spy.

The closed-door trial that ended Saturday found her guilty. Saberi could face up to eight years in prison, but her parents expressed cautious optimism in the interview with Stephonopoulos.

They told ABC News they fear Saberi is being used as a political pawn to force confessions, or perhaps a prison exchange with the United States.

Conviction Affecting U.S.-Iran Relations?

Saberi's confinement has provided the Iranian president an opportunity to assess how he should deal with the new administration in Washington.

"He's both caught between his desire for a new relationship with the United States, and his determination not to back down on any issue of importance," writes Stephonopoulos.

Obama's team has so far employed cautious language on Saberi's case, which some experts attribute to administration fears that Saberi could become a pawn in the already tense relationship between the United States and Iran.

When pressed by a reporter whether Saberi's conviction constitutes a setback to U.S.-Iran relations, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Saturday said, "Without getting too far into it, I think what we think is important is that the situation be remedied. And that without getting too deeply into that, I will leave it at that."

The U.S. government said it is working to get more information about her case and to make sure that she is treated properly. Government officials said the journalist was wrongly accused and convicted and that they are deeply disappointed by the Iranian government's actions.

"She is an American citizen, and I have complete confidence that she was not engaging in any sort of espionage," Obama said at a news conference on his trip to Trinadad and Tobago Sunday. "She is an Iranian-American who was interested in the country, which her family came from. And it is appropriate for her to be treated as such and to be released."

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