US, Iran Swap Prisoners in Rare Act of Cooperation

December 9, 2019 Updated: December 9, 2019
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DUBAI/WASHINGTON—The United States and Iran exchanged prisoners on Dec. 7 in a rare act of cooperation between two longtime foes.

Iran released Xiyue Wang, a U.S. citizen who had been held for three years on spying charges, while the United States freed Massoud Soleimani, who had been facing charges of violating U.S. sanctions against Tehran.

A senior U.S. official said Washington is hopeful that Wang’s release would lead to the freeing of other Americans held in Iran and that it’s a sign Tehran is willing to discuss other issues.

Wang, a graduate student at Princeton University, appeared to be in good health and humor, 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 U.S. special representative for Iran, according to a U.S. 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.

The releases were the result of three or four weeks of intensive negotiations, the senior U.S. official said.

“We’re hopeful this will lead us to further success with Iran,” he told reporters in a conference call.

Switzerland represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran, since Washington and Tehran cut diplomatic ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

By Parisa Hafezi & David Brunnstrom