The Trump administration on Saturday announced the release of Xiyue Wang, an American graduate student held prisoner in Iran since 2016, as part of a prisoner exchange with Tehran.
“After more than three years of being held prisoner in Iran, Xiyue Wang is returning to the United States,” President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he will ‘temporarily hold off’ on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization House Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Artist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 MORE said in a statement.
“We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran,” Trump continued. “The highest priority of the United States is the safety and well-being of its citizens. Freeing Americans held captive is of vital importance to my Administration, and we will continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive overseas.”
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The U.S. has for years pushed for the release of Wang, a Princeton University student who was charged with espionage and in 2017 sentenced to 10 years in prison. Americans officials denied that he was a spy.
Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump says he will ‘temporarily hold off’ on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization West Bank annexation would endanger Israel’s security House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE said Saturday that Wang “has now been released and is on his way back to the United States.” He thanked the Swiss government “for facilitating the return of Mr. Wang” while saying “Tehran has been constructive in this matter.”
“We continue to call for the release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran,” he added in a statement.
Wang was freed from the Evin Prison in Iran and flew on a Swiss government airplane from Tehran to Zurich and was met there by the State Department’s special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, according to The New York Times.
The U.S. released Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani in exchange for Wang. Soleimani was arrested last fall on charges of violating trade sanctions against Iran and was expected to be released from prison under a plea agreement.
“Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly. Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted early Saturday.
Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly. Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government. pic.twitter.com/1TeZUL0CDG
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) December 7, 2019
Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, thanked those involved in securing her husband’s release.
“Our family is complete once again,” she said in a statement. “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.”
The prisoner swap comes amid broader tensions between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program and as the Trump administration has threatened to increase penalties on the country in recent days over its bloody crackdown on protesters.
Hook had briefed reporters about Iran’s crackdown on Thursday, describing in graphic detail Iranian security forces firing on fleeing protesters with machine guns.
The U.S. believes that more than 1,000 people have been killed, Hook said, with victims as young as 13, while as many as 7,000 demonstrators have been detained following the protests triggered by a rapid rise in fuel prices last month.
The Trump administration said this week that the U.S. would pursue sanctions against two Iranian prisons for gross human rights violations.
Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran but has sought to maintain a “maximum pressure campaign” on the country with economic sanctions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said earlier this week that Tehran would negotiate with the U.S. “whenever the U.S. lifts the unfair sanctions.”
Updated: 7:13 a.m.