Iran has released US researcher held captive on spying charges since 2016.
US and Iran each freed a prisoner in a rare swap, an act of cooperation between two longtime foes whose ties have worsened since President Donald Trump took office.
Shortly before Donald 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.
Donald Trump said Xiyue Wang, a US citizen held in Iran for three years on spying charges, was returning to the United States. An Iranian official said that Iranian Massoud Soleimani had been freed from detention in the United States.
A senior US administration official said that Washington was hopeful that Wang’s release would lead to the freeing of other Americans held in Iran.
The swap is also being considered as the breakthrough of the harsh talks between the two countries.
Wang appeared to be in good health and humor, he said.
Switzerland facilitated the swap and Iranian state news agency IRNA said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed Soleimani in Zurich, where it said the swap took place.
It said Soleimani was expected to return to Iran in the coming hours.
In a statement issued by the White House, Donald Trump made no mention of the freeing of Soleimani but thanked the Swiss government for its help in negotiating Wang’s release.
“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,” Donald Trump said.
Zarif said that earlier the prisoner swap was imminent. Later he posted pictures on Twitter of himself with Soleimani talking on board an Iranian plane.
“Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly. Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government,” Zarif tweeted.
Switzerland represents US diplomatic interests in Iran, since Washington and Tehran cut diplomatic ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Wang, a Princeton University graduate student, was convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017. His family and the university have always said he was in Iran for research into a history degree and denied spying.
According to Princeton, he was born in Beijing in 1980, emigrated to the United States in 2001 and became a naturalized US citizen in 2009. His wife and child are Chinese citizens. China, which normally requires its citizens to give up their nationality when they become citizens of another country, has not commented publicly on the case.
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 U.S. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.
The senior U.S. administration official said Soleimani had been due to appear in court in the United States on Dec. 11 but the charges against him had been dropped.