Iran Bound: Mothers Hope to Visit Detained Hikers

Moms plan first moments with children at center of international controversy.

ByLEE FERRAN and KATE McCARTHY via via logo
May 4, 2010, 7:20 PM

May 18, 2010 — -- The mothers of the three American hikers who have been held in Iran since July are heading to Tehran today in hopes of seeing their children for the first time since before their international ordeal began.

The mothers say they have already planned their first moments, the first words they'll say to their imprisoned children.

"I'm so glad to see you, sweetie," Nora Shourd planned to say to her daughter, detained 31-year-old Sarah Shourd. "How are you? I love you."

"I will wrap my arms around him, tell him I love him," Cindy Hickey said of her son, 27-year-old Shane Bauer. "They will be coming home."

The three Americans, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and 27-year-old Josh Fattal were detained by Iranian officials July 31, 2009. They were reportedly hiking on a trail that winds along the unmarked Iran-Iraq border. They have not yet been charged with a crime and have not been allowed to see their legal representation.

CLICK HERE to see what Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos about the hikers.

Earlier this month the mothers made a public plea toIranian officials to set politics aside and release their children.

"The two countries are at odds with each other and we don't want this mixed in with that," Cindy Hickey told "Good Morning America."

In an interview earlier this month with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said it was up to a judge to decide whether the hikers' claim that they simply got lost was the truth as they would have to plead their case to him.

"They have to provide proof and evidence to the judge in Iran that shows that they lost their way or made a mistake," Ahmadinejad said. "When the time comes, they will have a lawyer."

Click here to read a full transcript of George Stephanopoulos' interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Americans, all University of California-Berkeley graduates, entered northern Iraq with visas from Turkey on July 28 and planned to spend five days in the area, according to a Web site dedicated to the hikers' release.

"There's no doubt in my mind that if they crossed the border by accident, it was by accident," Hickey said.

Ahmadinejad said he would make a recommendation to the judge to "render maximum cooperation" in regards to the case, but said he had no influence over the judge. The mothers said they saw more when they watched the interview.

"We saw compassion in his face during that interview," Laura Fattal said. "I think President Ahmadinejad -- his face changed when you spoke about the children."

Hickey said that if her child is released, she'd like to thank Ahmadinejad. Shourd said it would amount to an personal "gesture" by Ahmadinejad.

"The world is watching what's going to happen over there and we think it would be just an incredible gesture for the president to extend to us," she said. "We hope he thinks about it that way too."

"These are bright, American kids that have their life ahead of them," Fattal said. "What does any mother want? A Chinese, a Russian and an American mother? An Iranian mother? They want a child to have health, happiness and freedom."

The three mothers pleaded with Ahmadinejad to bring their children with him when he came to the United States earlier this month to speak at the U.N. conference on nuclear non-proliferation.

They never heard back about their request, but if the women said that if they'd had a chance to speak to the Iranian president, they would have told him that their children are innocent hikers.

"If they crossed the border, he can talk to them and ask them about it. It is an alleged charge, we do not know if they crossed the border," Laura Fattal said earlier this month. "And so I think any discussion with the three individuals will ensure the Iranian authorities that these young people had no intention of entering Iran."

Nora Shourd said they learned through a Swiss representative that the hikers are not doing well.

"Sarah is suffering from depression and talking about hunger strikes and we are really, really worried about them even more than we were before, if that is possible," Shourd said two weeks ago.

The mothers said their children don't know what is happening with the case but said they are grateful for the letters they have received.

Although the mothers have had very little contact with their children, Fattal's husband briefly spoke to their son by phone two months ago.

"[Josh] was so eager for outside contact, they are so eager to be out of their isolation. This is very very trying for them," Fattal said.

As for the speculation in Iran that the hikers could be spies, the mothers said "absolutely not."

"It would contradict everything about who they are. There is no way they are connected to any government agency," Hickey said.

Prisoner Says He Had Contact With Hikers

In January, a Belgian tourist who was detained for three months in an Iranian prison said he had contact with one of the three hikers and said the American he saw seemed well fed, but suffering the effects of prolonged imprisonment.

"The hiker I could sometime catch a glimpse of seemed at times a bit depressed" because of the difficult conditions of his detention, Idesbald van den Bosch told ABC News in January.

"It is clear imprisonment had an impact on him," van den Bosch said. "He did not look thin. We were well fed, well treated. We were not badly treated physically."

In February, Ahmadinejad proposed a prisoner swap of Iranians in the United States for the hikers, The Associated Press reported.

The Iranian president told state television, "there are some talks under way to have an exchange, if it is possible."

"We are hopeful that all prisoners will be released," he said according to the AP.

Ahmadinejad did not name the Iranians the government claimed were being held, but the AP reported that in December the country released the names of 11 Iranians supposedly being held in the United States.

At the time, National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said such discussions did not take place, but would welcome any questions about Iranians being held in the United States.

"If President Ahmadinejad's comments suggest that they are prepared to resolve these cases, we would welcome that step," Hammer told the AP. "But we have not entered into any discussion with Iran about an exchange. As we have indicated publicly, if Iran has questions about its citizens in U.S. custody, we are prepared to answer them."

ABC News' Christophe Schpoliansky and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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