Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held Iranian scientist

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An Iranian held in the US and an American detained in the Islamic republic have been released, in an apparent prisoner swap seen as a potential breakthrough in US-Iran relations.

Iran released Xiyue Wang, a USA citizen who had been held for three years on spying charges, while the United States freed Iranian Massoud Soleimani.

Wang was released Saturday in exchange for Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani, who had been arrested by us authorities on charges that he violated sanctions against Tehran. "Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government", Zarif tweeted.

Between January 25 and March 10, 2016, Wang visited Iran to attend a Farsi language program at the Dehkhoda Lexicon Institute & International Center for Persian Studies.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif confirmed that Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist, was released in the exchange.

A US official, speaking to journalists on condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations with Iran, suggested the maximum pressure campaign targeting Tehran would continue. President Trump later thanked Iran for "a very fair negotiation", and suggested that the swap was proof "we can make a deal together".

The swap comes amid growing tensions between Iran and the US and its allies in the Gulf.

Trump administration officials told The New York Times they believe Iran only released Wang in order to soften its image and to deflect attention from the hundreds dead and thousands imprisoned during a recent crackdown on mass domestic protests.

"We're hopeful this will lead us to further success with Iran", he told reporters in a conference call. The 49-year-old Iranian professor and biomedical researcher at Tehran's Tarbiat Modares University, who was traveling to the United States with a visa issued upon an invitation by a USA research center, was detained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation upon arrival.

Wang, a Princeton University graduate student, was convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017.

Efforts to free him and other Americans held in Iran have been complicated by increased tensions following the US withdrawal past year from the 2015 nuclear agreement between the Iranian government and world powers.

Commenting on the release, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter that the Princeton University grad student had been held "on false charges." and that "Mr. Wang will soon be reunited with his wife and son, who have missed him dearly". In September, an Iranian woman sentenced in the United States for violating Washington's sanctions against Tehran was released and returned home.

Tensions have heightened between Iran and the United States since Trump previous year pulled Washington out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Tehran's economy.

Princeton University, where Mr Wang was studying as a postgraduate, said in a statement it was "overjoyed" with the news of his release and was looking forward to "welcoming him back to campus".

"We are working with his family and the USA government to ensure his safe and speedy return to the United States", it said in a statement.

Wang's wife Hua Qu had appealed for worldwide cooperation to secure his release.

"Wang's wife has got a visa to travel to Germany".

He is expected to remain in Germany for several days before returning to the United States.

FILE - In this Wednesday, May 9, 2018 file photo, Hua Qu, the wife of detained Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, poses for a photograph with a portrait of her family in Princeton, N.J. Iran has responded by gradually scaling back its commitments under the agreement. "Wang is expected to come to Washington, D.C., on Monday", said Zakka. In the time since, the US has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran's economy.

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