- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2019

An American graduate student was freed Saturday after being held prisoner in Iran for more than three years on suspicion of being a spy, gaining his release as part of a prisoner swap with the U.S.

Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University doctoral student born in China, was to join his family at a U.S. military base in Europe after being released from Iran’s Evin Prison. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said his release was part of a swap in which the U.S. freed Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani.

Because the U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, the Swiss government aided in facilitating Mr. Wang’s release and relayed information to the State Department.

The White House announced Mr. Wang’s release in a statement early Saturday, thanking the Swiss for their assistance in negotiating with Iran.

“There was a one-on-one hostage swap,” President Trump confirmed to reporters later Saturday. “Actually, I think it was a great thing for Iran. I think it was great to show that we can do something. It might have been a precursor as to what can be done.”

He said the Princeton University community is “very thrilled.”

“We have our hostage back. We’ve been trying to get him back,” Mr. Trump said. “He was taken during the Obama administration. We got him back during the Trump administration, so we’re very happy about that.”

A senior administration official said Mr. Wang spoke by phone to the president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo upon his release, expressing his gratitude.

The official said Mr. Wang “appears to be in good health, and I can tell you he seems to be in very, very good humor and in good spirits.”

“He was not a spy, he was not involved in espionage, and was wrongfully detained from the start,” the official said.

Hua Qu, Mr. Wang’s wife, said in a statement: “Our family is complete once again. 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. We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”

In a conference call with reporters, the senior administration official said he’s “hopeful that the release of Mr. Wang is a sign that the Iranians are realizing that their practice of hostage-taking diplomacy really should come to an end if Iran wants to rejoin the international community.”

“That’s one of the malign activities that really needs to end on the part of the Iran,” he said.

Earlier, the president said in a statement that “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.”

“Mr. Wang had been held under the pretense of espionage since August 2016. We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran. The highest priority of the United States is the safety and well-being of its citizens,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Wang was doing research in Tehran in August 2016, when he was arrested on espionage charges. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Soleimani was arrested by U.S. authorities in Chicago in 2018. The White House’s statement made no mention of him.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised “the work of all those in involved” in securing Mr. Wang’s release.

“Iranian authorities arrested Xiyue Wang in 2016 and later charged him with completely fabricated and politicized accusations,” he said. “Mr. Wang, an American citizen, was conducting scholarly research for his doctorate at Princeton. For more than three years Iranian authorities have let him languish and kept his family, including his wife and young son, in anguish over his well-being and eventual return.”

Mr. Menendez said Iran “continues to pursue unjust, political detentions of its own citizens, Americans, and other foreigners.”

“While we celebrate the release of Mr. Wang we cannot forget Robert Levinson, Michael White, and Baquer and Siamak Namazi and others unjustly detained,” he said.

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