Iran has released an American detainee, the former military soldier, Michael White, who left for the United States, the day after the arrival of an Iranian scientist released by Washington to his country, in a possible exchange of detainees between the two rival countries.
In a tweet, US President Donald Trump announced that Michael White, the former US military who was arrested in Iran in July 2018, “was on a Swiss plane that just left Iranian airspace”.
He made it clear that he would be “very close” among his family in the United States.
Trump thanked Switzerland for its “wonderful assistance” and promised to continue working for “the release of all Americans held hostage abroad,” a file that had had several successes three years ago.
Earlier, Joan White, the mother of the former military, announced the news of his release, saying in a statement: “Over the past 683 days, the Revolutionary Guards have taken my son Michael hostage”.
“I lived a nightmare.
I am pleased to announce that the nightmare is over and that my son is on the way home safely”.
This came the day after the return of the Iranian scientist Cyrus Askari, 59, who was released by the United States after he was acquitted of espionage and spent about three years in prison.
The US authorities have not clarified at the present time whether this is a prisoner exchange process similar to what happened in late 2019 between the two countries that do not have diplomatic relations.
Michael White was sentenced in March 2019 to ten years in prison for insulting Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and posting private photos of him on social networks, according to his lawyer.
In mid-March, he was allowed to leave the prison for “health” and “humanitarian” reasons, but on condition that he not leave Iran.
Bill Richardson, the former governor of the US state of New Mexico, who has made intense efforts with the Iranian authorities to obtain White’s release, said that the examination had confirmed the infection of the newly infected Coronavirus.
After being allowed to leave prison, White surrendered, at a first stage, to the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests in the country.
Switzerland was on the front lines in the last exchange of detainees in December, when Iran released American Shiwi Wang in exchange for a US release of Iranian Masoud Soleimani.
Iran is still arresting three Iranian Americans – businessman Siamak Namazi, his eightieth father, Muhammad Baqir Namazi, and environmental activist Murad Tahbaz – and demands that Washington release them.
In mid-May, the Iranian authorities confirmed that they wanted to exchange “all detainees” with Washington.
But the US Department of Homeland Security official Ken Cochinelli accused Iran of “stalling”.
He wrote in a tweet, “We have 11 of your citizens in an illegal situation and we are trying to send them back to your country. Send the plane”!
Ultimately, only a military Cyrus has returned to Iran.
Severe tension is running between the two countries, which escalated with Trump’s withdrawal in 2018 from the nuclear agreement concluded between Iran and the six major countries, and re-imposed severe sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
In response, Iran has gradually begun to waive the commitments listed in the agreement aimed at verifying that its program is limited to civilian uses.
The US President has since confirmed his intention to negotiate a new agreement, and there have been several mediators in this regard, especially French mediation, but all have failed.
Releases of detainees are often seen as a way to reduce stress.
The situation between the two countries worsened until it reached the brink of a military confrontation, especially in June 2019 after Iran destroyed a US reconnaissance plane in the Gulf, and in January 2020 after the assassination of the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, General Qassem Soleimani, in a US strike in Baghdad.
However, Iran’s response remained limited.