Ahmadinejad changes tune on Berkeley hikers

December 21, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
In an exclusive interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Iran's president spoke about the three American hikers accused of entering his country illegally.

The UC Berkeley graduates will stand trial soon and their families are not likely to find comfort in what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Sawyer.

For friends and family of the three American hikers who've been imprisoned in Iran for nearly five months, Sawyer's interview with Ahmadinejad may not have been the most reassuring.

"Are you still going to do your best to set them free?" Sawyer asked Ahmadinejad.
"Yes, but I have a question for you. How do you know they have accidentally crossed into Iran?" said Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad's latest comments are in stark contrast to an interview he did with the Associated Press back in September when he said he would ask Iran's judiciary "to look at the case with maximum leniency."

UC Berkeley graduates Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were arrested July 31st and will soon face trial for crossing the Iranian border while hiking in northern Iraq.

"How do you know they were looking for waterfalls and forests?" asked Ahmadinejad.
Sawyer then asked "Do you have evidence that it was not accidental, young people on a hike on a vacation?" Ahmedinejad sharply replied, "Who has told you this? Are you a judge?"

But while it appears Ahmadinejad has hardened his stance, San Francisco State University international relations professor Mamood Monshipouri, Ph.D., says one thing is certain -- there is only so much Ahmadinejad can do.

"This interview shows the complexity of the Iranian situation. In Iran you have so many centers of the power and sometimes the president of the country is not really in charge of certain decisions. Especially when it comes to the judiciary branch," says Monshipouri.

Which is exactly why Sarah Shourd's mother, Nora, is appealing directly to the Iran's supreme leader -- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. She released a video last week saying "I deeply apologize for any inconvenience their action may have caused."

The three hikers have been detained for almost 150 days. In honor of them, friends and family will be gathering Tuesday night for a candlelight vigil in Berkeley.


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