Iran has released an American citizen held in captivity since 2016 on charges of espionage, US President Donald Trump announced on Saturday, in an apparent prisoner swap amid heightened tensions between the two countries. Shortly before Trump made the announcement that American researcher Xiyue Wang was returning home, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that the US freed Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani.
"Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly," Zarif tweeted. "Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government," he said.
The US and Iran have not had diplomatic ties since 1980. The Switzerland government looks after US interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic ties, while Pakistan serves as Iran's protecting power in America. The Swiss government has provided consular services to Wang.
"After more than three years of being held prisoner in Iran, Xiyue Wang is returning to the United States. A Princeton University graduate student, Wang had been held under the pretense of espionage since August 2016," Trump said in a statement.
He thanked the Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Wang’s release with Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a separate statement, thanked Iran for having a constructive approach to the issue.
Pompeo said Wang had been held on false charges in Iran for over three years. He is now on his way back to the US. "Wang will soon be reunited with his wife and son, who have missed him dearly. The US will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones," he said.
"We thank the Swiss government for facilitating the return of Wang and are pleased that Tehran has been constructive in this matter. We continue to call for the release of all US citizens unjustly detained in Iran," Pompeo said.
China-born US national Wang is pursuing his PhD in history from Princeton University. His wife Hua Qu and son are still Chinese citizens. Wang acquired US citizenship in 2009.
Wang was doing research on Iran's Qajar dynasty when he was imprisoned in August 2016. "Our family is complete once again. 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.
We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen," Wang's wife Hua said in a statement. Meanwhile, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported that Iranian scientist Soleimani was freed after one year of "illegal detention and was handed over to Iranian officials in Switzerland".
Soleimani, a professor and senior stem cell researcher at Tehran's Tarbiat Modares University, was arrested in October 2018 at Chicago airport on charges of trying to ship growth hormones, Iranian media reported.
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