THE United States and Iran each freed a prisoner at the weekend in a rare act of cooperation between two longtime foes whose ties have worsened since President Donald Trump took office.
Tensions have risen between Iran and the US since Trump last year pulled Washington out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Tehran’s economy.
Iran has responded by gradually removing its commitments under the agreement.
Iran released Xiyue Wang, a U.S. 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 U.S. sanctions against Tehran.
A senior U.S. 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.
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.
However, arriving 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.”
Wang was released based on “Islamic clemency”.
Switzerland has represented U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran since Washington and Tehran cut diplomatic ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Wang, a Princeton University graduate student, was convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017.
His family and the university have always said he was in Iran for research into a history degree and denied spying.
According to Princeton, he was born in Beijing in 1980, emigrated to the United States in 2001 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2009. His wife and child are Chinese citizens.
China, which normally requires its citizens to give up their nationality when they become citizens of another country, has not commented publicly on the case.