Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

Iran 'ready for further prisoner swaps' with US

Michael White, a US Navy veteran detained in Iran since 2018, was freed last Thursday

US Navy veteran Michael White, left, holding a folded US flag as he poses with US special envoy to Iran Brian Hook at Zurich Airport in Zurich, Switzerland. AFP
US Navy veteran Michael White, left, holding a folded US flag as he poses with US special envoy to Iran Brian Hook at Zurich Airport in Zurich, Switzerland. AFP

Iran is ready for further prisoner exchanges with the United States, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Sunday, according to the official Irna news agency.

Michael White, a US Navy veteran detained in Iran since 2018, was freed last Thursday as part of a deal in which the US allowed Iranian-American physician Majid Taheri to visit Iran – a rare instance of US-Iranian co-operation.

Mr White’s release came two days after the US deported Sirous Asgari, an Iranian professor imprisoned in the US despite having been acquitted of stealing trade secrets.

"If the possibility of exchanging prisoners exists, we have the readiness to free the rest of the individuals who are imprisoned and return them to the country," Mr Mousavi said.

An Iranian doctor based in Florida returned to his homeland on Monday after being part of the swap..

Fars news agency published an image of Matteo Taerri being greeted at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport by foreign ministry officials and his family. The agency and state television identified Mr Taerri by his Persian name, Majid.

Mr Taerri, a dermatologist, had been charged with attempting to export a filter to Iran that he said was for vaccine research but that US authorities said required a licence because it could be used for chemical and biological warfare. He was also accused of structuring a series of bank deposits below US$10,000 to evade reporting requirements under federal law.

He pleaded guilty late last year and has already served months behind bars. But in April, he was permitted to be free on bond after the justice department withdrew its detention request, citing what it said were significant foreign policy interests.

Fars quoted Mr Taerri as calling his charges “futile and unfair.” Mr Taerri reportedly said he tried to send the filter to Iran to help scientists at Tehran University manufacture a cancer vaccine, without elaborating.

Iran allowed Mr White, of Imperial Beach, California, to leave the country on Thursday. He was detained in July 2018 while visiting a girlfriend in Iran. He was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online.

Mr White was released from prison in March on a medical furlough that required him to remain in the country in the care of the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents America’s interests in Iran.

Earlier last week, Iranian scientist Mr Asgari separately returned to Tehran after being acquitted in a federal trade secrets case. Mr Asgari’s departure had been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, and his supporters say the scientist contracted the virus while being held.

The White-Taerri swap comes after months of quiet diplomacy, even as the US under President Donald Trump continues a maximum-pressure campaign targeting Iran after unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.

The two countries had been locked in a series of escalating incidents, including the US drone strike killing an Iranian general in Baghdad and an Iranian ballistic missile attack targeting American troops in Iraq.

Other westerns and Iranians with ties abroad have been detained by authorities in the country, and they are likely to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, on hand for the airport ceremony, said Iran had “mobilised” its potential to release other Iranians in the US, without elaborating.

Updated: June 8, 2020 01:07 PM

Editor's Picks
THE DAILY NEWSLETTER
Sign up to our daily email
Most Read