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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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Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
32 mins ago - Science

All-civilian Inspiration4 is back on Earth after flight to space

A side-by-side of the Inspiration4 crew and a shot of their capsule on the way back to Earth. Photo: SpaceX

The all-civilian Inspiration4 crew is back on Earth after their three-day mission in orbit.

The big picture: The launch and landing of this fully amateur, private space crew marks a changing of the guard from spaceflight being a largely government-led venture to being under the purview of private companies.

28 U.S. citizens depart Afghanistan on Qatar Airways flight

Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft bound to Qatar at the airport in Kabul on September 10, 2021. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department on Saturday confirmed that a Qatar Airways charter flight left Kabul on Friday with 28 U.S. citizens and seven lawful permanent residents on board.

The big picture: Friday's flight is the third such airlift by Qatar Airways since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, AP reports.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Smaller than expected "Justice for J6" rally met with large police presence

Police officers watch as demonstrators gather for the "Justice for J6" rally in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2021. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

A few hundred demonstrators were met by a heavy law enforcement presence on Saturday at the "Justice for J6" rally outside the fenced-off U.S. Capitol, AP reports.

The latest: Four people were arrested at the rally, including one person with a gun, one with a knife and two with outstanding warrants, per the U.S. Capitol Police.