NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A University of Washington alumnus, held for three years in Iran on widely criticized espionage charges, was freed on Dec. 7 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.
Xiyue Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, released a statement saying “our family is complete once again.”
“Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue,” she said. “We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”
The trade on the tarmac of a Swiss airport saw Iranian officials hand over Wang, a Chinese American, for scientist Massoud Soleimani, who had faced a federal trial in Georgia over charges he violated sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran.
The swap, however, had clear limits. Crushing U.S. sanctions on Iran blocking it from selling crude oil abroad remain in place, part of President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign imposed following his unilateral withdraw from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers last year. Those sanctions in part fueled the anger seen in nationwide protests last month that Iranian security forces violently put down, unrest that reportedly killed over 200 people.
“We’re very happy to have our hostage back. The whole Princeton University community is very thrilled and it was a one-on-one hostage swap,” Trump told reporters. “Actually I think it was a great thing for Iran. I think it was great to show that we can do something. It might have been a precursor as to what can be done. But we have our hostage back.’’
Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, accompanied the Soleimani to Switzerland to make the exchange. He later posed for a photograph with Wang, who carried a folded American flag in his arms while wearing gray workout clothes.
Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad. Wang was arrested in 2016 while conducting research on the Qajar dynasty that once ruled Iran for his doctorate in late 19th- and early 20th-century Eurasian history, according to Princeton.
Wang’s family and Princeton strongly denied the claims. The United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said, “There was no legal basis for the arrest and detention.”