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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

42 mins ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.

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