3 American Hikers Held in Iran Phone Home for First Time

Cindy Hickey had rehearsed what she would say to her son when she finally got to talk to him months after he was detained in Iran. When the time came, the conversation lasted only about a minute, she said, "so it was hard to say a lot."

But Hickey came away from the phone call hopeful that her son, Shane Bauer, and two other Americans held for nearly eight months in Iran will be home soon.

"The next time I hear his voice I'd like it to be in person," Hickey, of Minnesota, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The families of Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal also said they received calls Tuesday and all three reported being well. In a statement, the families called the conversations "a tremendous relief."

Hickey said it was "exciting to hear this voice after not having his condition confirmed for over four months."

"The first thing he said was: `Mom, this is Shane. I love you, I miss you, I'm strong. How are you?"' Hickey said. "I answered: `I'm strong, I'm determined, it's not going to end until you're home."'

Hickey said Bauer, 27, asked how everyone at home was doing and expressed concern for his two sisters.

"He sounded strong. He was talking very fast," said Hickey, who said she assumed the call was monitored. "He sounded determined. It was very good to hear that strength in his voice."

The families say Bauer, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, were hiking in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region in July when they accidentally crossed the border into Iran.

Hickey said the last time she talked to her son was about a week before he went on his trip. She said it was an "unexpected call but expected."

The families say Bauer and Fattal are being held in the same prison cell in Tehran. Shourd is alone in another cell.

Fattal's mother, Laura Fattal, said her husband spoke to their son.

"It was emotional for everyone," she said, noting that the family hadn't heard from Josh since a July 27 e-mail. "It was like a thousand pounds lifted off my back. ... We were just thrilled."

Her son said he has been well fed and was getting a chance to exercise, read letters and books sent to him, as well as watch English language television daily, Fattal said. Her son also said he had seen footage of himself and his friends on TV, as well as footage of his mother talking about the case.

Iran says the three are spies. U.S. officials are calling for the hikers' release.

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Wednesday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called the phone calls a positive development, but said the U.S. was still seeking consular access to the three through the Swiss Embassy.

Switzerland has represented U.S. consular interests in Iran since Washington and Tehran broke off diplomatic relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution. Crowley said the Swiss haven't had consular access to the detainees since Oct. 29.

"As we have repeatedly said, we believe that these three American hikers should be released," Crowley said. He also called for the release of Reza Taghavi and Kian Tajbakhsh, two other American citizens being held in Iran, and he called on the Iranian government to help find Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran three years ago.

Iran's top human rights official said in February that Iranian authorities are considering a request by the families of the Americans to visit them in prison. Hickey said the families have not heard yet if they'll be able to visit the three.

In late December, Iran's foreign minister said the Americans would be tried in court, but he did not say when that would happen or what they would be charged with, other than to say they had "suspicious aims."