Xiyue Wang was released Saturday as part of a prisoner swap negotiated by the U.S. State Department. (Courtesy Wang Family photo via Princeton University/Handout via Reuters/File Photo) Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) shakes hand with Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani prior to leaving Zurich for Tehran on December 7, 2019.
A Princeton scholar held for three years in Iran on widely criticised espionage charges was freed today as part of a prisoner exchange that saw America release a detained Iranian scientist, a rare diplomatic breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions.
Soleimani, a stem cell expert, was arrested at Chicago airport in October 2018 for allegedly attempting to export biological materials to Iran in violation of USA sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.
Mr Soleimani, a professor and senior stem cell researcher at Tehran's Tarbiat Modares University, was arrested on arrival at Chicago airport in October 2018 for allegedly attempting to ship growth hormones, according to Iranian media.
Hook and Wang were en route to Landstuhl hospital at Ramstein Air Base in Germany where Wang will be examined by doctors, the official said.
Although Hook was present for the swap, the official said Trump's national security adviser Robert O'Brien played the lead role in the negotiations dating from his time as the special representative for hostage affairs at the State Department.
Wang's wife, Hua Qu, released a statement saying "our family is complete once again". According to Princeton University, prior to traveling to Iran, Wang sent letters to the Iranian Interest Section at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C., which issued his visa. "Mr. Wang will soon be reunited with his wife and son, who have missed him dearly", Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Mr Soleimani was also flown to Zurich and then on to Iran.
In February, Princeton graduate students held a "Day of Action" demanding that the Iranian regime release Wang.
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There were concerns they could enter the village, home to fewer than 1,000 people, and patrols had been set up to monitor their movements.
"We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen".
Relations between the USA and Iran reached a new low this week with further sanctions slapped on Tehran. Switzerland represents United States interests in Iran.
Wang, who is married with a son, was a Eurasian history scholar. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ruled out direct talks between the nations.
At least five other Americans are known to be imprisoned or missing in Iran. Iranian authorities have so far refused to give any official account of the death toll of the protests and the number of the detained.
Iran is still holding several other Americans, including Robert Levinson, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent.
His family has not heard a word from him for years.
An Iranian held in the United States and an American held in Iran have been freed, the two sides said on Saturday, in an apparent prisoner swap at a time of heightened tensions.
They include former USA soldier Michael R. White, British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, French academic Roland Marchal and Australian university lecturer Kylie Moore-Gilbert.