How a big prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran unfolded
Brian Hook stands with Xiyue Wang in Zurich today. Photo: State Department via AP
Brian Hook, the State Department special representative for Iran, boarded a military plane at Andrews Air Force Base Friday night and flew to Zurich, where Saturday he swapped an Iranian scientist for an American student who'd been captive in Iran.
The latest: Iranian officials handed over Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang, 38, detained in Tehran since 2016 on what the U.S. says are false charges, for scientist Massoud Soleimani, who faced a federal trial in Georgia.
A senior administration official told me how it went down:
- National security adviser Robert O'Brien had worked on the case in his previous job as the State Department's chief hostage negotiator.
- The final flurry happened over the past few weeks after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo learned from the Justice Department that Soleimani was about to be released. Pompeo told Hook: "We may be able to move on this case. Let's reach out and see."
- Iran, convulsed by what the N.Y. Times calls its "worst unrest in 40 years," has faced international condemnation for a crackdown that the U.S. says has killed at last hundreds.
- After the swap, Hook and Wang flew to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Hook was to return soon. Wang will follow when doctors approve.
Behind the scenes: As soon as the swap happened, administration officials called the families of other Americans held in Iran to share the news, and tell them that they're still working on their cases.
- What they're saying: The official said President Trump has made a huge priority of getting American hostages home, and added that this was done with "no sanctions released, no pallets of cash, no change in policy."
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