In a statement on Thursday night, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi confirmed media reports that the United States had released Dr. Majid Taheri, an Iranian scientist who had been imprisoned in the US on false charges, after spending over a year in jail, while calling on Washington to release all other Iranian citizens taken “hostage.”
Taheri, said to be a longtime resident of Florida, spent 16 months in prison for allegedly violating US sanctions on Iran.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry official said US citizen Michael White, who had been sentenced to prison in Iran for “security crimes” and in a lawsuit brought by “private plaintiffs,” was released after satisfying the plaintiffs in respect to the cause of action while being granted “Islamic mercy for his other crimes.”
On Wednesday, Iranian scientist Sirous Asgari, a professor of material sciences at Iran’s Sharif University of Technology, returned home after spending about three years in detention in the United States owing to the wrongful accusations of stealing and transferring information to the Islamic Republic.
His release was made possible thanks to diplomatic follow-ups by Tehran, despite Washington’s efforts to prolong his detention and exchange him with a prisoner held in Iran.
In his interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on Sunday, Mousavi said, “This exchange [of prisoners] was carried out with the help of the Swiss government and, therefore, it is necessary to thank the government of Switzerland for its help.”
Emphasizing that the Swiss diplomats were responsible for talks with the US government, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman emphasized, “There has been no direct negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the government of the United States.”
“These exchanges have been conducted on humanitarian ground. A number of Iranian nationals have been taken hostage illegally in the US and for false reasons,” the Iranian official said.
They are accused of circumventing or violating sanctions but Iran does not accept such allegations, Mousavi said, adding, “On the other hand, their [Washington’s] sanctions are illegal and baseless.”
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said in May that the country is ready to exchange prisoners with the United States, but that it will not accept any preconditions from Washington.
He added that Iran’s inclination toward prisoner swap had already been announced by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, saying, “We have declared that there is readiness to exchange all prisoners and discuss their release without any preconditions, but the US has refused to respond.”
Tensions between Iran and the United States have been extremely tense since President Donald Trump decided in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw the US from the international nuclear agreement – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – and reinstated the sanctions that the agreement had lifted, in defiance of the fact that the accord has been endorsed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231.
Under Washington’s pressure, the three European signatories to the JCPOA, France, Britain and Germany, have so far failed to fulfill their contractual obligation to protect Tehran’s business interests against the sanctions.