American graduate student held in Iran on spy charges since 2016 to be released

An American graduate student held in Iran will be released in exchange for an Iranian scientist held by the U.S., officials confirmed.

Iran’s foreign minister and the White House both announced that Princeton University graduate student Xiyue Wang will be exchanged for scientist Massoud Soleimani.

“After more than three years of being held prisoner in Iran, Xiyue Wang is returning to the United States,” President Trump said in a statement released by the White House on Saturday. “The highest priority of the United States is the safety and well-being of its citizens.  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.”

FILE - In this Wednesday, May 9, 2018 file photo, Hua Qu, the wife of detained Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, poses for a photograph with a portrait of her family in Princeton, N.J. Iran's foreign minister says a detained Princeton graduate student will be exchanged for an Iranian scientist held by the U.S. Mohammed Javad Zarif made the announcement on Twitter on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. The trade involves graduate student Xiyue Wang and scientist Massoud Soleimani. Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad. His family and Princeton strongly denied the claims. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

FILE – In this Wednesday, May 9, 2018 file photo, Hua Qu, the wife of detained Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, poses for a photograph with a portrait of her family in Princeton, N.J. Iran’s foreign minister says a detained Princeton graduate student will be exchanged for an Iranian scientist held by the U.S. Mohammed Javad Zarif made the announcement on Twitter on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. The trade involves graduate student Xiyue Wang and scientist Massoud Soleimani. Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad. His family and Princeton strongly denied the claims. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad. His family and Princeton University strongly denied the claims.

His wife, Gua Qu, rejoiced over the news of his release in a statement on Twitter.

“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,” the statement said. “We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”

Wang’s release was negotiated with the assistance of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, who looks out for America’s interests in the country as the U.S. Embassy there has been closed since the 1979 student takeover and 444-day hostage crisis.

Xiyue Wang with son Shaofan

Xiyue Wang with son Shaofan (Courtesy of Hua Qu)

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that Soleimani was with Iranian officials in Switzerland.

Soleimani — who works in stem cell research, hematology and regenerative medicine – was arrested by U.S. authorities on charges he had violated trade sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran.

He and his lawyers maintain his innocence, saying he seized on a former student’s plans to travel from the U.S. to Iran in September 2016 as a chance to get recombinant proteins used in his research for a fraction of the price he’d pay at home.

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Wang is one of at least four known Americans being held prisoner in Iran, all accused of spying.

Xiyue Wang and Hua Qu in an undated photo.

Xiyue Wang and Hua Qu in an undated photo. (Courtesy of Hua Qu)

Hua Qu told Fox News in January that her husband was not a spy, but instead a “history nerd.”

“All he wanted to do is to do good research and then teach for the rest of his life,” she said at the time.

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Tensions have been high between Iran and the U.S. since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. In the time since, the U.S. has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran’s economy. There also have been a series of attacks across the Mideast that the U.S. blames on Iran.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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