Iran: Moms' Emotional Reunion With Detained American Hikers

Exclusive: Hiker's brother overcome by meeting, says "I can't believe it."

May 4, 2010, 7:20 PM

May 20, 2010 — -- More than nine months of desperate pleading finally paid off for the mothers of three American hikers detained in Iran as they embraced their children in an emotional reunion in Tehran today.

It was the first time the mothers have seen the hikers since the group was arrested in July for crossing the Iranian border and accused of spying by Iranian officials. The brother of one of the hikers was nearly overcome with emotion when he saw video of his mother hugging and kissing his brother on the cheek when they met at the Esteghlal Hotel in north Tehran.

According to the U.S. State Department, the meeting between the families and the hikers lasted about 90 minutes, after which the families met with Iranian officials.

"That image of my mom hugging him is unbelievable. We waited a long time for an image like that. Wow," Alex Fattal told "Good Morning America" in an exclusive interview today. "I can't believe it... I was sending my mom off at JFK Airport like yesterday. To see her hugging my brother like this... I said, 'Mom, give him a big hug for me. Send him all my love.'"

Fattal's brother, 27-year-old Josh Fattal, along with Shane Bauer, 27, and Sarah Shourd, 31, has spent more than nine months in an Iranian prison. No formal charges have been brought against the three hikers and though they have lawyers, they have not been allowed to meet with them.

The mothers greeted the group exuberantly while wearing long black robes and carrying bouquets of flowers.

In a brief news conference, Bauer said the hikers received "no indication" that Iranian officials would release them anytime soon, but they're holding out hope.

"We always have hope we'll get released," he said. "We hope that Iran can continue with humanitarian gestures like letting our mothers come by releasing us on humanitarian grounds."

Alex Fattal was also hopeful.

"Now hopefully Iran will continue in this humanitarian spirit and allow them to come home with their mothers," he said. "What better time to release them to their mothers than right now? Hopefully the end is around the corner."

Alex Fattal, who spoke to his mother after her meeting with Josh, said the mothers didn't know if they were going to be able to meet with their children again, but hoped to see them "as frequently as possible, for as long as possible."

The mothers are traveling on week-long visas, Fattal said, which could limit their opportunities to fight for the hikers.

"Hopefully the higher authorities in Iran will grant requests to the mothers and meet with them so the mothers can appeal to them," he said.

After the initial reunion with their mothers, the three hikers spoke to reporters and described their captivity.

Bauer said the group had a "decent relationship" with the guards and that "it's been civil."

Josh Fattal said the officials eventually allowed the American to have books while in confinement.

"Once we started getting books that really helped the prison experience a lot," he said.

"Shane and Josh are in a room together, but I'm alone and that's the most difficult thing for me," Sarah Shourd said. "We have good food and we have medical care which is appreciated."

Shourd's mother told "GMA" Tuesday she was worried about her daughter because Swiss officials told her Sarah was suffering from depression and considering a hunger strike.

The Swiss officials said Sarah Shourd was also suffering from a serious gynecological condition and Bauer had a stomach ailment, The Associated Press reported.

Mother's Public Plea to Iranian President

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" Tuesday.

Those tensions have been heightened by the U.S. effort to impose new sanctions on Iran in an effort to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

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 were telling the truth when they claimed that they simply got lost.

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

"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."

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.

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

"We saw compassion in his face during that interview," Laura Fattal said Tuesday. "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 Tuesday. "We hope he thinks about it that way too."

"These are bright, American kids that have their life ahead of them," Laura 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."

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 underway 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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