Last week, Cindy Hickey, Laura Fattal and Nora Shourd visited their three adult children, jailed in Iran for nearly 10 months after being arrested while hiking near the Iran-Iraq border. VOA's Persian News Service has followed the mothers' efforts closely, and Monday two of the mothers sat down with VOA to discuss their trip.
It was an emotional reunion in a Tehran hotel - between three mothers and their adult children imprisoned since July on spying charges. Sarah Shourd and the other Americans maintain they accidentally crossed into Iran while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan.
"We thought we would be kept here for a matter of days," said Nora Shourd. "In my wildest dreams I never thought I would still be in prison…"
Just back from their journey, Cindy Hickey and Laura Fattal thanked the Iranian authorities for allowing the trip, where Hickey learned of her son Shane Bauer's engagement to Shourd. She says Bauer made two rings from shirt threads and proposed in the prison yard.
"They sat on the floor in front of us and announced that Shane had proposed in January and they of course asked our permission and Nora and I am very excited about this," said Cindy Hickey. "I love Sarah very much. She is a wonderful human being."
Shourd and Bauer plan to marry once they are freed, and they've asked Josh Fattal, the other jailed American, to be the best man. Iran has not announced any plans for their release.
"These three individuals entered our borders illegally," said Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "They have confessed to that."
Analysts in both countries say the case is hopelessly intertwined with overall bad relations between the U.S. and Iran over that country's nuclear program. The mothers stressed the humanitarian nature of their mission. They expressed sympathy when meeting with the mothers of Iranians formerly jailed by U.S. forces in Iraq, who said their children had not been treated nearly as well.
"We really feel very sympathetic for any Iranian prisoners that are being kept in the U.S. We talk about this constantly," said Nora Shourd. "But again, we are not politicians. We don't have the power to do this. We wish we did."
The American mothers have repeatedly asked Iranian authorities to free their children on humanitarian grounds, but ultimately they returned without them.
"Knowing we are traveling half-way around the world and knowing we are leaving our kids in an Iranian prison, this was a devastating terrible moment and we can only hope and we do hope that we will be re-united with Josh, Shane and Sarah very soon," said Laura Fattal.