United States and Iran swap prisoners in rare act of cooperation

Cheryl Sanders
December 8, 2019

A Princeton scholar held for three years in Iran on widely criticised espionage charges was freed today as part of a prisoner exchange that saw America release a detained Iranian scientist, a rare diplomatic breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions.

Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, celebrated the return of the scientist released by the U.S.in exchange for Wang.

"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. "Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government", Zarif tweeted on Saturday.

Trump thanked Iran on Twitter for what he called a "very fair negotiation" that led to the exchange. "Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it's hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue", she said in a statement.

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.

"Once Wang finishes an expected medical examination at the USA medical facility in Germany, and returns home to his family and colleagues, he'll resume his work on his PhD fulltime", Kotkin wrote.

The prisoner exchange came after weeks of negotiations, a senior U.S. official told reporters on Saturday.

Wang, a USA citizen and Princeton University graduate student, was conducting dissertation research in Iran in 2016 when he was detained and accused of "spying under the cover of research", an allegation his family and the university have denied. He was subsequently convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017.

Efforts to free him and other Americans held in Iran have been complicated by increased tensions following the USA withdrawal a year ago from the 2015 nuclear agreement between the Iranian government and world powers.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter he was "pleased that the Iranian government has been constructive in this matter".

In a statement issued in Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump said that "after more than three years of being held prisoner in Iran, Xiyue Wang is returning to the United States". "It shows that American officials have issues with Iranians". He added, "See, we can make a deal together". Soleimani was expected to return to Iran in the coming hours.

Wang's wife Hua Qu had appealed for global cooperation to secure his release.

In this 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.

Princeton University confirmed the release of Wang.

In September, Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman sentenced in the United States for violating sanctions against Tehran was released and returned home after giving birth in custody.

"Wang's wife has got a visa to travel to Germany".

"We can't help but be extremely disappointed that, despite all its efforts, the United States government was unable to secure his release, especially after such a painful week for our family", the Levinson family said in a statement. "Wang is expected to come to Washington, DC on Monday", said Zakka. Iran has responded by gradually scaling back its commitments under the agreement. US officials, along with human rights groups, said as many as 1,000 Iranians have been killed and thousands more imprisoned since the protests began on November 15.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized Central Intelligence Agency mission, remains missing as well.

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