The United States and Iran each freed a prisoner on Saturday in a rare act of cooperation between two longtime foes whose ties have worsened since President Donald Trump took office, reports Reuters.
Iran released Xiyue Wang, a US citizen who had been held for three years on spying charges, while the United States freed Iranian Massoud Soleimani. He had been facing charges of violating US sanctions against Tehran.
A senior US official said Washington was hopeful that Wang’s release would lead to the freeing of other Americans held in Iran and that it was a sign Tehran was willing to discuss other issues.
Wang appeared to be in good health and humour, he said.
Switzerland facilitated the swap. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met Soleimani in Zurich, state news agency IRNA said. Soleimani, who then flew to Iran, was accompanied to Switzerland by Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, according to a US official.
Trump thanked Iran on Twitter for what he called a “very fair negotiation” that led to the exchange. He said the swap showed the United States and Iran “can make a deal together”.
In an earlier statement, Trump thanked the Swiss government for its help in negotiating Wang’s release.
“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,” Trump said.
Arriving in Tehran, Soleimani, a stem cell expert, told reporters the Americans who had held him were “petty.”
“I told them that I had patients that needed my help. And they said who cares. Let them die,” he said. “It shows that American officials have issues with Iranians.”
IRNA reported that Wang was released based on “Islamic clemency”.
The releases were the result of three or four weeks of intensive negotiations, the senior US official said.
“We’re hopeful this will lead us to further success with Iran,” he told reporters in a conference call.
Switzerland represents US diplomatic interests in Iran since Washington and Tehran cut diplomatic ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.