Ahmadinejad quiet about 3 UC Berkeley grads

September 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
There was a highly anticipated speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations on Wednesday. Family and friends of three U.C. Berkeley grads being held in Iran were hoping to hear him reach out and expand on comments he made Tuesday. Instead, President Ahmadinejad lashed out at the U.S., its western allies, and Israel.

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President Ahmedinejad mentioned the American hikers on the eve of his speech and because of that, friends and family were holding out hope that he would provide at least some information about the detainees, but that never happened.

"You think he might be a hero and step forward and say, 'Yes, we're releasing these young people,'" says U.C. Berkeley journalism professor Ken Light.

It was certainly a long shot, but that's what Light was hoping for -- that in New York before the U.N. general assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad would announce the release of Cal graduates Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. Bauer was Light's student a few years ago.

"These young people are completely uninvolved in the political situation that's happening here in the U.S. or is happening in Iran," says Light. "But obviously they are pawns in a very big political game, unfortunately."

Shourd, Bauer and Fattal have been in an Iranian custody since July 31st. They were captured after straying into Iran while hiking in the Kurdistan border region of Iraq, but on Tuesday came some encouraging words from Ahmedinajad himself that gave friends and family hope.

In an interview with the Associated Press, the Iranian president said while the Americans broke the law, he would request leniency for the hikers and that the case be expedited.

"I've had tears on numerous occasions thinking about them and wanting to see Sarah back here safe and sound or back in her life in Damascus where she was teaching English," says Margaret Roberts, a friend of Shourd.

Earlier on Wednesday, the families issued a joint statement saying, "Our immediate concern now is to know that our children are well. We hope the Iranian authorities will allow our children to speak to us without delay and grant them their right to consular access.

"I'm hopeful that they are young, they are resilient, they're very smart and the world is watching," says Light.

The U.S. has no diplomatic presence in Iran so any line of communication would have to go through the Swiss government.

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