Family members of three American hikers detained in Iran remained hopeful Tuesday, as the Iranian president said in an Associated Press interview that he would request leniency for their loved ones.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking ahead of his visit to the United Nations, told the AP he would request leniency for Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd, who have been held for 52 days since apparently straying into Iran while hiking in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region in July.
The case has become the latest source of friction between the U.S. and Iran. Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that the Americans broke the law, and "we're not happy that this happened."
"What I can ask is that the judiciary expedites the process and gives it its full attention, and to basically look at the case with maximum leniency," Ahmadinejad said, speaking in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
"The judiciary has its own procedures to follow, but I'm hopeful," he said.
He did not elaborate.
Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, declined to comment Tuesday night on Ahmadinejad's statements. Earlier in the day, she told the AP that she and the other families, who are in touch with each other daily, had not received any information on their children other than that they're being held somewhere in Iran.
She had said she hoped Ahmadinejad would announce their release or at least provide some information about them on Wednesday when he speaks at the General Assembly in New York. Also Tuesday, Fattal's brother Alex said he and his mother had hoped Ahmadinejad would bring the trio with him.
"We have really got no indication about any direction that this might go," Hickey said at her rural home near Pine City in eastern Minnesota, about a mile from the Wisconsin border. "Knowing our children and knowing they were on a hiking trip and they weren't doing anything other than camping, we're hoping this will come to a quick end. It's been real difficult not to be able to talk to him and hear his voice."
The U.S. government has no diplomatic relations with Iran and has been working with the Swiss government to try to obtain information.
U.S. officials and authorities in Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region say the backpackers crossed the poorly marked border by mistake while visiting a scenic part of Iraq on July 31. Iran's state television has said they were arrested after disregarding border guards' warnings.
Bauer, 27, a freelance journalist, spent his first 14 years in Onamia, Minn., before moving to San Leandro, Calif., to live with his father.
Hickey, 49, said her son expressed an interest in the wider world even as a young child, and as he grew older became particularly interested in the Middle East. He spoke fluent Arabic, and for the last year had been living in Damascus, Syria with Shourd, 31, his girlfriend of several years.
Fattal, 27, went to visit Bauer and Shourd, who teaches English, after traveling overseas on a teaching fellowship with the International Honors Program. All three are graduates of the University of California, Berkeley.
Hickey said she never worried much about her son as he traveled in the Mideast and other global hot spots. "He's a seasoned traveler, and he's always very careful," said Hickey, who lives with her husband on a farm with 19 Alaskan huskies.
She spent time with her son in Yemen a few years ago and had planned to visit him in Damascus later this year. When they last spoke, about a week before he went to hike in Kurdistan, he even raised the possibility that mother and son might return to the scenic wilderness area.
Also before Ahmadinejad spoke to the AP, Bauer's sister Shannon Bauer, 23, of Boulder, Colo., said the summer release of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling from North Korea gave her hope.
"When I saw them released, I felt how happy I am for their families and what their families must have gone through," she said. "It definitely gave me a sense of hope that that will happen for us in the near future."
The families have stressed that the three were merely hiking in Kurdistan, and Hickey said her son was not there as a journalist. Hickey said she's had many sleepless nights and has been frustrated by her lack of options. On her dining room table, next to several pictures of her son, she set up cups for drinking tea - a habit she shares with her son. She won't use them until the day he comes home.
"Because I believe in what he does, I would not try to control what he does in the future," Hickey said. "But I want him home for a few days."