The White House:
John Fritze, USA TODAY
Published 7: 27 a.m. ET Dec. 7, 2019 | Updated 1: 43 p.m. ET Dec. 7, 2019
WASHINGTON – An American graduate student who has been held prisoner in Iran for more than three years was released on Saturday, the White House said.
An Iranian court had sentenced Xiyue Wang to 10 years in prison on espionage charges, Iranian news agencies reported in 2017. He was arrested a year earlier.
“Our family is complete once again,” Hua Qu, Wang’s wife, 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.”
Wang, 38, was freed as part of a prisoner swap after the United States released Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist arrested last year on trade violations. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, posted a photograph of himself on Twitter with Soleimani under the words “going home.”
The exchange comes during a moment of high tension between Iran and Washington after Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, and reimposed economic sanctions. Iran shot down a U.S. drone in June, claiming it had violated its airspace, and Saudi Arabia has blamed Iran for an attack this year on an oil facility.
“The highest priority of the United States is the safety and well-being of its citizens,” President Donald Trump said in a statement early Saturday.
“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.”
In a mid-day tweet, Trump noted that Wang was “taken during the Obama Administration,” and suggested the swap could lead to more deals with Iran.
“Thank you to Iran on a very fair negotiation,” Trump tweeted. “See, we can make a deal together!”
The U.S. Embassy in Switzerland released a photo of Wang embracing U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen as McMullen gave him an American flag.
Wang was conducting research on the administrative and cultural history of the late Qajar dynasty in connection with his Ph.D. dissertation, a Princeton University spokesman said in 2017. U.S. officials deny that Wang was providing intelligence to spy agencies.
A senior administration official said Wang is en route back to the United States after a rest and check-up in Germany.
“We expect him to return home soon,” the official said.
Negotiations have been underway for about three weeks said the official, who described the talks as part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran.
“He is not a spy,” the official said of Wang. “He was not involved in espionage. He was wrongly detained from the start.”
The administration continues to have a goal of returning all U.S. hostages from foreign nations, the official said.
“We have other hostages being held around the world,” the official said. “We are fully committed to bringing every American home.”
Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber said in a statement he was grateful to “to everyone, at Princeton and beyond, who has supported Xiyue and his family throughout his unjust imprisonment, and for all the efforts that have led to his release.”
He extended special thanks to the “United States government, the government of Switzerland, and the students, faculty and staff” who advocated for Wang’s freedom.
“Another American is coming home,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Xiyue Wang, who has been held on false charges in Iran for over three years, has now been released and is on his way back to the United States.”
Pompeo thanked the Swiss government for facilitating the swap and said he was “pleased that Tehran has been constructive in this matter.”
Contributing: John Bacon, Nicholas Wu
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