US 'hiker' pleads with Ahmadinejad

Sarah Shourd, freed after being held on suspicion of espionage, seeks Iranian president's help to release jailed fiance.

    Ahmadinejad told a news conference he had no objection to meeting Shourd [GALLO/GETTY]

    Sarah Shourd, one of three Americans arrested last year near Iran's border with Iraq on suspicion of spying, has met the Iranian president to plead for the release of her friends from Iranian custody.

    Shourd, who was released earlier this month, said she, her mother and the mothers of the two Americans still in an Iranian prison met Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday in New York.

    She described the meeting with Ahmadinejad, who was in the US to attend the UN General Assembly, as a "very human encounter, very personal".

    "For me to be able to talk to the president is something I've been waiting for for a long time and I prayed for in prison. So it's a good feeling for me to be able to tell him my story directly," Shourd said as she left a New York hotel after the meeting.

    "I'm very thankful for this and hopeful it will make a difference for Shane and Josh [the Americans in jail]."

    Spy allegations

    Shourd, 32, was released on September 14 but Shane Bauer, her fiancé, and friend Josh Fattal remain jailed in Tehran after they were detained on July 31, 2009.

    The Americans said they had strayed by accident into Iran in July 2009 while hiking in the mountains in Iraq. Iranian authorities have alleged that they were spying.

    At a news conference on Friday, Ahmadinejad did not say whether he had met Shourd but said he had no problems with doing so.

    "We meet with many Americans, have met with Americans, hundreds of them on this trip," he said.

    'Innocent hikers'

    Shourd, who has said the trio were innocent hikers who never intended to cross into Iran from Iraq, said she would continue to push for the release of Bauer and Fattal on humanitarian grounds.

    She said Ahmadinejad was very gracious and that she was hopeful that he would try to advocate for her friends. Under Iranian law, espionage can be punishable by execution.

    Ahmadinejad has called on the United States to release eight Iranians who he said were being held illegally, noting that his country had made a humanitarian gesture in releasing Shourd.

    But Mark Toner, a US state department spokesman, rejected any link.

    "We would just say that there is no equivalent between these individuals who have been either charged or tried and afforded due process in a court and these hikers who crossed an unmarked border and have yet to be charged," Toner told reporters on Monday.

    The case has further complicated relations between Tehran and Washington, which are already strained over Iran's disputed nuclear programme.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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