Iran has released a Princeton graduate student, Xiyue Wang, in exchange for an Iranian scientist, Massoud Soleimani, held by the United States, marking a potential breakthrough between the two countries after months of tensions.
US President Donald Trump said in a statement from the White House on Saturday that Wang was “returning to the United States”.
“Mr. Wang had been held under the pretense of espionage since August 2016,” Trump said. “We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran.”
Hua Qu, Wang’s wife, also said he has been released from the Evin prison in Iran.
“Our family is complete once again. We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen,” she said.
The news of the swap came shortly after Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly.”
“Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government,” he posted.
Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad. His family and Princeton University strongly denied the claims.
Iran has arrested dual Iranian nationals and those with Western ties in the past to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
Soleimani – who works in stem cell research, haematology and regenerative medicine – was arrested by US authorities on charges he had violated trade sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran.
He and his lawyers maintain his innocence, saying he seized on a former student’s plans to travel from the US to Iran in September 2016 as a chance to get recombinant proteins used in his research for a fraction of the price he would pay at home.
Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since Trump unilaterally withdrew his country from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.
In the time since the US has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran’s economy. There have also been a series of attacks across the Middle East that the US blames on Iran.