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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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