Iran and U.S. swap prisoners in Zurich

Cheryl Sanders
December 8, 2019

Meanwhile, Western detainees from the USA and elsewhere remain held by Tehran.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while saying Wang would soon be able to go home to his family, acknowledged other Americans remain held by Iran.

Wang's release had been rumoured over recent days.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also thanked the Swiss. Zarif later posted pictures of himself on Twitter with Soleimani in front of an Iranian government jet and later with the two talking on board.

In a statement issued by the White House, Trump made no mention of the freeing of Soleimani but thanked the Swiss government for its help in negotiating Wang's release.

Princeton University also issued a statement following the student's release. "But we have our hostage back".

Switzerland represents American interests in the Islamic Republic, where the USA severed formal diplomatic relations in 1980 after student militants seized its embassy and held its staff hostage for months.

The US regards the swap as a low price for Wang's release, who has always insisted he is innocent with his family describing the charges as absurd.

A United States official told the Associated Press that the swap took place in Zurich, and that Wang is headed to Landstuhl, Germany, where he will be examined by doctors before returning to the US.

Yang's wife Hua Qu said in a statement: "Our family is complete once again".

"We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen".

Soleimani arrived at Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport with Zarif, where his wife and family wrapped garlands of yellow and purple carnations around his neck. "That may be one of the reasons why it has taken some time", the official stated. "They are afraid of our knowledge". He was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in an Iranian prison.

A senior USA government official said that the freed Iranian researcher was arrested in the United States a year ago for allegedly trying to transport banned material out of the U.S., breaching the U.S. sanctions on Iran.

FILE - In this Wednesday, May 9, 2018 file photo, Hua Qu, the wife of detained Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, poses for a photograph with a portrait of her family in Princeton, N.J.

Both the USA and Iranians offered praise to Switzerland who had been acting as intermediaries during negotiations.

Massoud Soleimani, a stem cell expert, was arrested at a Chicago airport a year ago.

He and his lawyers maintain his innocence, saying he seized on a former student's plans to travel from the USA to Iran in September 2016 as a chance to get recombinant proteins used in his research for a fraction of the price he'd pay at home.

He confirmed that Soleimani was freed, while stressing that it was not a "blind" prisoner exchange case.

However, it remains unclear whether this exchange will have a wider effect on Iranian-U.S. relations.

Iran has recently been hit by major protests over rising petrol prices, which are partly linked to the USA sanctions.

The demonstrations and the crackdown reportedly killed at least 208 people, though Iran has refused to release nationwide statistics over the unrest. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ruled out direct talks between the nations.

In April, Zarif publicly expressed Tehran's preparedness for a prisoner swap with the US.

"I'm hopeful that the release of Mr. Wang is a sign that the Iranians are realizing that the practice of hostage-taking diplomacy really should come to an end if Iran wants to rejoin the global community", he said.

There had been signs a swap could be coming.

(Right) In this image released by the State Department, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook welcomes American researcher Xiyue Wang upon his arrival in Switzerland after his release from Iran on Saturday.

Xiyue Wang was imprisoned in Iran after being charged for connections to USA intelligence. Wang had been held in Iran's notorious Evin prison since August 2016 on charges of espionage.

A statement on the Iranian judiciary's Mizan Online website said Xiyue had been "freed on Islamic clemency" and handed over to Swiss officials in order to be returned to America.

Iran is still holding several other Americans, including Robert Levinson, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent.

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