Iranian and American freed in apparent prisoner swap

Nellie Chapman
December 8, 2019

Xiyue Wang was released in Switzerland on Saturday following a prisoner swap agreement between the US and Iran.

The student was exchanged for an Iranian scientist, who was in custody for violating US sanctions.

Others held in Iran include U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who is serving a 10-year espionage sentence, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian with U.S. and British citizenship also initially sentenced to 10 years in prison.

"It was a one-on-one hostage swap", Trump told reporters. "I think it was great to show than we can do something. It might have been a precursor as to what can be done".

An Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively.

Soleimani was due to be released next month in any case under a plea agreement - to that extent, the release of Xiyue Wang was a good deal, American media outlets were reporting on Saturday, quoting unnamed administration officials.

Hua Qu, Mr Wang's wife, wrote in statement: "Our family is complete once again".

Xiyue Wang was released Saturday as part of a prisoner swap negotiated by the U.S. State Department. (Courtesy Wang Family photo via Princeton University/Handout via Reuters/File Photo) Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) shakes hand with Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani prior to leaving Zurich for Tehran on December 7, 2019. Baquer Namazi now is on a prison furlough, said Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman at Iran's mission to the United Nations.

'Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government, ' which has looked after United States interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic ties, Zarif added.

"Our country stands ready for further facilitation", the foreign ministry statement said. A short time earlier, Tehran announced the release of Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani from the United States.

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Trump also thanked Iran for "very fair" negotiations in the run-up to the release.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet that he was "pleased that the Iranian government has been constructive in this matter".

Mr Soleimani was detained in October 2018 on accusations of attempting to export biological materials to Iran in violation of trade sanctions on the country over its nuclear program.

The Iranian government said Wang was "sent" by the Ivy League university to "infiltrate" Iran and had high-level connections - allegations Wang and his lawyers say are false, according to Princeton.

Iran had accused the American student, Xiyue Wang, of being a spy. Wang had been conducting research in Iran as part of his doctoral thesis when he was arrested in 2016 and charged with spying for the United States government.

"He was not a spy, he was not involved in espionage and, and was wrongfully detained from the start", the USA official said.

The Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Wang was released based on 'Islamic clemency'.

Soleimani, a stem cell expert, was arrested at Chicago airport in October 2018 for allegedly attempting to export biological materials to Iran in violation of US sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

"There's been absolutely no payments of cash or lifting of sanctions or any sort of concessions or ransom", the official said. Iran has accused the US without evidence of being behind the mid-November protests over gasoline prices.

"But several other Americans remain unjustly detained in Iran and they should be released too", he cautioned.

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