Dec 7, 2019

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."

Go deeper: U.S. graduate student released from Iran

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U.S. graduate student released from Iran

An American graduate student imprisoned in Tehran since 2016 was released on Saturday in exchange for an Iranian stem cell researcher held in the U.S., the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Iran may have released American Xiyue Wang to distract from its recent wave of protests and the government's harsh response, the Times writes. The U.S. estimates around 1,000 Iranians died as a result of the mass clashes.

Go deeperArrowDec 7, 2019

The latest: Iran general who replaced Soleimani vows revenge for death

Photo: Mohammed Sawaf/AFP via Getty Images

Iran's new top commander Esmail Ghaani, who replaced Gen. Qasem Soleimani after he died in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq, pledged during a televised address Monday to avenge the general's killing, AP reports.

The latest: Ghaani‘s declaration that God "has promised to get his revenge" and that "certainly actions will be taken" came hours after Iran said it would no longer abide by limits on its uranium enrichment and Iraq's parliament voted to call on the Iraqi government to expel U.S. troops from the country over Friday's airstrike.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 6, 2020

White House informs Congress of Soleimani strike, Trump warns U.S. will hit Iran if attacked

Trump speaks at a Evangelicals for Trump Coalition event, Jan. 3. Photo: Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The White House has notified Congress of the drone strike that killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, fulfilling its duties under the War Powers Act.

Why it matters: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the notification "raises more questions than it answers." Both Democrats and Republicans — including Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — have criticized President Trump for not obtaining congressional approval for this week's strike.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 5, 2020