Freed U.S. hiker Sarah Shourd said her meeting with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad was "a very human encounter" that fuelled her hopes of being reunited with her two companions still held in Iran.
The 32-year-old Shourd was released this month after spending more than a year in an Iranian jail, but her fiance Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Fattal remain imprisoned in Tehran on suspicion of spying.
Shourd said she, her mother, and the mothers of Bauer and Fattal met on September 24 with Ahmadinejad, who has been attending the UN General Assembly in New York, to plead for her friends' release:
"I just want to thank President Ahmadinejad for this gesture of allowing my mother and I to meet with him, and for the mothers of Shane and Josh to meet with his envoy. It was a very gracious gesture and a good meeting," Shourd said.
"For me to be able to talk to the president is something I've been waiting for for a long time and I prayed for in prison. So it's a good feeling for me to be able to tell him my story directly. So I'm very thankful for this and hopeful that it will make a difference for Shane and Josh."
The trio was detained in July 2009 while hiking near the Islamic republic's border with Iraq. Shourd has said they were innocent hikers who never intended to cross into Iran.
Speaking about her discussion with Ahmadinejad, she said the Iranian president had been friendly and had asked questions about her family. She said the meeting had been "good" and gave her hope that Ahmadinejad would try to advocate for her friends.
"I'm hopeful that the president will try to advocate on my fiance's and my friend Josh's behalf, and I really feel very happy for this gesture and the graciousness shown today," she said.
Shourd said she would continue "to keep pushing every minute for their release on humanitarian grounds. I believe my case sets a precedent for their release, and that it's a very positive step in the right direction."
The case has further strained relations between Tehran and Washington, which have been locked in a standoff over Iran's controversial nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad has called on the United States to release eight Iranians who he claims are being held illegally, in response to Shourd's release.
During his visit to New York, he said that there was a chance the two other hikers could be released, but that the case was being handled by an Iranian judge.
Under Iranian law, espionage can be punishable by execution.
compiled from agency reports