The mothers of three Americans jailed in Iran hugged and kissed their children in an emotional reunion Thursday during a mission to try to win their release. One of the prisoners said loneliness was the hardest part of her detention in the trio's first public comments since their arrest 10 months ago.
Iran detained the three Americans — Sarah Shourd, 31; her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, 27; and their friend Josh Fattal, 27 — along the Iraqi border in July and have accused them of spying. Their relatives reject the accusation and say the three were hiking in Iraq's scenic and largely peaceful northern Kurdish region.
Nora Shourd, Cindy Hickey and Laura Fattal threw their arms in the air and rushed to embrace their children as they entered the room at the Esteghlal Hotel in north Tehran, in footage aired on Iran's state-run Press TV.
They hugged their children and kissed them on the cheeks as they embraced, some of them rocking back and forth together with tears in their eyes.
The mothers, who were wearing long black robes and holding bouquets of flowers during the meeting, arrived in Tehran on Wednesday to visit their children and try to secure the their release.
With all six of them seated together on a low-slung couch afterward, Shourd told reporters that it has been "terrible to be away from our families for this long."
"We've only received one phone call and that was five minutes long and that was amazing — we waited and prayed for that every day," she said. "This (the meeting) is something obviously we've been praying for and it makes a huge difference."
She said their treatment by the Iranian authorities has been "decent" but that for her "it's really difficult being alone."
"Shane and Josh are in a room together but I'm alone and that's the most difficult thing for me," she said. She added that she's allowed to see Bauer and Fattal twice a day.
Hickey, the mother of Shane Bauer, said the parents are "very grateful to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the authorities for granting us a visa" to visit their children.
"We know that this is a great humanitarian act that they have given to us. Our reception was wonderful when we came into Iran," she said in comments aired on English-language Press TV.
Relatives have had little news on the three Americans since their arrest, and their mothers are eager to talk with them and gauge where their health stands after some 10 months in captivity in Iran's Evin prison.
Nora Shourd has said she is especially worried about the effect that near-solitary confinement may be having on her always social daughter. With no one to talk to, Sarah had become seriously depressed, her mother says she was told by the Swiss diplomats who visited the trio last month. The diplomats also reported that Sarah was suffering a serious gynecological condition, while Bauer had a stomach ailment.
On Thursday, Iran's intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, defended Iran's treatment of the Americans during their detention.
"We have treated the US nationals according to our religious principles and on humanitarian grounds, even though these individuals committed an act of espionage by illegally crossing the border into Iran," Moslehi was quoted as saying by Press TV.
Iran says the three entered Iranian territory from Iraq. The parents say that if the trio crossed the border it was by accident.
A lawyer representing the Americans, Masoud Shafii, has said that during their visit, the mothers are seeking meetings with officials involved in the case, and ideally with top Iranian leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters.
Although the Americans have not been publicly charged, Shafii has left open the possibility of a resolution outside of usual legal channels, saying "anything is possible."
"It doesn't have the feel of a normal court case," Shafii said Wednesday.
The case could face complications from Iran's diplomatic showdown with the U.S. and its allies. Just before the mothers' arrival in Tehran, the United States said it had won support from other major powers for a new set of sanctions against Iran over its suspect nuclear program.
The U.S., which has not had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and its allies accuse Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
In recent years, a number of foreigners held by Iranian authorities on espionage and other security-related charges have been released following months of detention.
Last week, Iran freed French academic Clotilde Reiss, 24, after more than 10 months in jail. She was convicted of provoking unrest and spying during unrest that broke out after June's disputed presidential elections.
An Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, who was arrested in January 2009, convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison, was released on an appeal in May 2009.
Hickey lives in Minnesota, Shourd is from Oakland, California, and Fattal is from suburban Philadelphia.
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