Iran and US engage in prisoner swap
Tehran, Jun 4 (efe-epa).- A US Navy veteran held in Iran since 2018 and an Iranian-American physician jailed in the United States for violating Washington’s sanctions against his homeland were released Thursday in what appeared to be an exchange, though neither government said so explicitly.
“I am to happy announce that Navy Veteran, Michael White, who has been detained by Iran for 683 days, is on a Swiss plane that just left Iranian Airspace. We expect him to be home with his family in America very soon,” US President Donald Trump said on Twitter.
Switzerland often acts as an intermediary between the US and Iran, who severed diplomatic ties with each other 40 years ago.
White, 48, boarded a Swiss government aircraft on Thursday for a flight to Zurich, where he was to be met by US officials.
In a tweet confirming that White left Iran, Tehran’s top diplomat said that Iranian-born Dr. Majid Taheri, who settled in the United States 33 years ago, had been released from US custody.
“Pleased that Dr. Majid Taheri and Mr. White will soon be joining their families,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.
“Prof. Sirous Asgari was happily reunited with his family on Weds.,” the minister added, referring to an Iranian academic deported from the US after a judge threw out a federal case against him for industrial espionage.
“This can happen for all prisoners. No need for cherry picking,” Zarif wrote. “Iranian hostages held in – and on behalf of – the US should come home.”
White was arrested in July 2018 while visiting his girlfriend in the Iranian city of Mashad. Later sentenced to 10 years behind bars for ostensibly insulting Iran’s supreme leader, the former Navy man was among the thousands of inmates granted medical furlough in March amid fears of Covid-19 outbreaks in prisons.
Though out of jail, White was required to stay in Iran.
Taheri, a dual US-Iranian citizen, was locked up for 16 months on charges he violated sanctions against Iran.
Thursday’s swap came six months after Iran freed Xiyue Wang, a US researcher accused of spying, in exchange for the release of Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani, arrested in the United States on charges he tried to obtain restricted biological material.
Iran is holding dozens of foreigners and Iranians with dual nationality – most of them charged with espionage – and Tehran has shown no reluctance to use those detainees as bargaining chips.
The last few months have seen Iran carry out prisoner exchanges with France and Germany.
The majority of Iranians in custody in the US are accused of seeking to circumvent Washington’s wide-ranging sanctions against Iran. EFE