Dec 7, 2019

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.

The state of play: Wang, a Princeton University graduate student, was conducting research when he was arrested in Iran for two espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the Washington Post notes.

  • Masoud Soleimani was arrested in Chicago last year and convicted of violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran, per the Post. He was expected to be released as soon as next month, regardless of the prisoner swap.

The big picture: At least five Americans are still being held in Iran as prisoners, but the exact number isn't known, per the Post.

What they're saying: Officials in Iran and the U.S. assert the two researchers are completely innocent and are collateral damage as tensions between the countries increase, the Post reports.

  • In a White House statement confirming the swap, President Trump said: "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."
“Our family is complete once again. Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue. We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”
— Hua Qu, Wang's wife, in a statement

Go deeper: Iranian government meets growing protests with harsher crackdown

Go deeper

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.

Go deeperArrowDec 7, 2019

Reuters: Iranian officials say 1,500 protestors killed in government crackdown

Photo: MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP via Getty Images

About 1,500 people have reportedly been killed in Iran's recent crackdown on protests, including at least 17 teenagers and about 400 women, according to Iranian government sources who spoke to Reuters.

Why it matters: The alleged death toll is higher than any other official estimates provided thus far. Amnesty International reported in November that 304 people had been killed "as authorities crushed protests using lethal force" in November, while U.S. Iran envoy Brian Hook said earlier this month that the Iranian government "could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens."

Go deeperArrowDec 23, 2019

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