FREE THE HIKERS
After her release, Shourd was at the center of the Free the Hikers media campaign and engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations on behalf of her fiancé Shane Bauer and friend Josh Fattal, who remained in prison. Her first media appearance was on Oprah, where she publicly challenged Iran’s President Ahmadinejad to meet her in person and present evidence against her companions. President Ahmadinejad agreed to meeting a few days later, during which he reassured Shourd that her companions would be freed. Shourd subsequently met with President Barak Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Undersecretary Bill Burns, National Security Council Advisor Dennis Ross, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, President Talabani of Iraq, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu, and many other U.S. and international officials in an attempt to convince various parties to increase the pressure on Iran to release her friends.
Frustrated by what little the Obama administration was willing to do on their behalf, Shourd enlisted actor Sean Penn to reach out to Venezuelan’s President Hugo Chavez. Chavez agreed to contact President Ahmadinejad and ask for the two men to be released as a personal favor, and the Iranian president agreed to do what he could. Other public advocates for their freedom included former boxer Muhammad Ali, author and intellectual Noam Chomsky, American-Pakistani author Dr. Akmar Ahmed, entertainer Cat Stevens, and many others. Bauer and Fattal were tried in court and sentenced to eight years in prison, but were released in September 2011 to the care of the Omani government, after serving over two years, and subsequently returned to the U.S.
The Associated Press reported that a series of secret talks took place in 2009-2011 between high-level U.S. and Iranian officials on Omani soil, facilitated and hosted by the Sultan of Oman. These talks were initiated under the pretense of negotiating the released of Shourd, Bauer and Fattal, but eventually paved the way for the negotiations that led to the Obama administration’s historic Iran Nuclear Deal. According to these reports, it was the Omani-led negotiations to free the three prisoners that generated sufficient trust between nations and put the sultan in a position to help end the U.S.-Iran stalemate."Ironically," said the AP report, "efforts to win the release of the three American hikers turned out to be instrumental in making the clandestine diplomacy possible."