Iranian-American freed in prisoner swap with U.S. arrives in Iran

DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian-American doctor has returned to Iran, Iranian state media reported on Monday, after a swap deal between Tehran and Washington that resulted in the release of a U.S. Navy veteran detained in Iran.

In a slight thaw in U.S.-Iranian enmity, the United States allowed Majid Taheri to travel to Iran as part of the swap deal. Michael White, an American who said he contracted the coronavirus while detained in Iran, was freed last week.

“The government of Iran has done an extreme effort in order to help people like me who were somehow accused of violating the U.S. sanctions,” Taheri told state TV after his arrival at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport, where he was welcomed by deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi-Ansari.

He said he had been punished by the United States for sending material to Iran to help a research group that was making vaccines.

Taheri, detained in the United States for 16 months for violating U.S. sanctions, was freed on June 4 as Iran released White, who had been sentenced to 13 years in 2019 for insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online.

Taheri’s lawyer said he would visit family in Iran and seek medical treatment before returning to the United States. He had pleaded guilty to violating U.S. sanctions, the lawyer added.

“My charges were futile and unfair,” Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency quoted Taheri as saying.

The prisoner swap deal is a rare bright spot in the relationship between the two foes that has grown more hostile since President Donald Trump took office in 2017. He exited a nuclear agreement Iran had signed with world powers, and reimposed sanctions that had been lifted under the deal.

Last December, Washington and Tehran worked on a prisoner exchange in which Iran freed U.S. citizen Xiyue Wang, who had been held for three years on spying charges, and the United States freed Iranian Massoud Soleimani, who faced charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Last week, materials science professor Sirous Asgari, 59, who was indicted by U.S. federal prosecutors in April 2016 and acquitted in November 2019, returned to Iran. He tested positive for the coronavirus in April and U.S. authorities had said he would be deported once he received medical clearance.

While both Tehran and Washington have expressed readiness for further exchange of prisoners, Iranian authorities have ruled out a wider negotiation with the United States as demanded by Trump administration.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry, which confirmed it played a role in what it called “the humanitarian gesture” on White and Taheri, said it “stands ready” to help further.

(This story removes extra word “the” in first paragraph)

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