Trump administration swaps Iranian prisoner for American student

'Freeing Americans held captive is of vital importance,' president says

Iran agreed Saturday to release an American university student detained in Tehran in exchange for an Iranian stem cell scientist held in Atlanta.

The Iranian government arrested Xiyue Wang, a 38-year-old father and graduate student from Princeton University, in 2016 and sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment on two counts of espionage that Wang and his lawyers deny. Neither Wang nor Princeton have seen the indictment, according to the school's website.

"After more than three years of being held prisoner in Iran, Xiyue Wang is returning to the United States," President Trump said in a Saturday statement. "We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran."

Switzerland represents American interests in the Islamic Republic, where the U.S. severed formal diplomatic relations in 1980 after student militants seized its embassy and held its staff hostage for months.

Image of Xiyue Wang, his wife and son/ Facebook/ Free Xiyue Wang

"The highest priority of the United States is the safety and well-being of its citizens," Trump added. "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."

Wang's wife, Hau Ou, said it is "difficult to describe in words how excited" she and their son, Shaofan, feel "to be reunited" with Wang.

"Our family is complete once again," she said in a statement. "We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen,"

Princeton University spokesman Ben Chang confirmed Wang's release.


"We are working with his family and the U.S. government to ensure his safe and speedy return to the United States," Chang said in a statement.

"Another American is coming home," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter. "We will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones."

The Iranian government said Wang was "sent" by the Ivy League university to "infiltrate" Iran and had high-level connections -- allegations Wang and his lawyers say are false, according to Princeton.

Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, celebrated the return of the scientist released by the U.S. in exchange for Wang.

"Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly," he wrote on Twitter.

The U.S. government arrested Soleimani in 2018 on charges of violating sanctions against Iran.

The captive exchange marks a positive step in relations between the U.S. and Iran, which have deteriorated since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Obama-era Iran nuclear agreement and increased sanctions against the country. Iran has been rocked by anti-government protests in recent months in which more than 200 people have been killed.