How about we end the week with a good news story? Well, another good news story. The first one this morning was huge – the May jobs report was a stunner, in the best way. A Navy veteran held hostage in Iran was released Thursday after being held for almost two years.
Michael White traveled to Iran to visit his Iranian girlfriend in July 2018 and was imprisoned. In March 2019 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges that he had insulted Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and posted a private photo on social media. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, he was recently placed on medical furlough but required to stay in the country. He was released to the Swiss embassy.
Mr. White, a 48-year-old cancer patient, specifically thanked President Trump for his release and for “making America great again.”
“I do want to extend my personal thanks to President Trump for his efforts both diplomatically and otherwise to making America great again. And I look forward to what’s going to happen here in the future,” White said.
White said his condition has improved since being released, though noting he contracted COVID-19 while in Iran prior to being placed on furlough. “Getting a lot better as a result of Swiss Embassy and all the efforts of the Trump administration,” he said.
The New York Times is calling the release of Michael R. White a prisoner exchange. The Times reports the release of White is proof that despite the tension between the United States and Iran, the two countries have a line of communication open. An Iranian-American doctor convicted of export violations in the United States and the return of an Iranian scientist held by the American authorities to Iran is connected to the release of White.
Mr. White was flown out of Iran as federal prosecutors in Atlanta completed arrangements releasing an Iranian-American doctor who had been convicted in a 2018 exports violation case. The doctor, Matteo Taerri, also known as Majid Taheri, who has lived in both Florida and the Atlanta area for many years, will be permitted to visit Iran, said Steven P. Berne, his lawyer.
Mr. Berne said negotiations involving the exchange of Dr. Taerri for Mr. White had been proceeding quietly for months.
“It’s a happy ending for all,” he said by telephone.
Mr. White’s release also came a day after an Iranian scientist, Sirous Asgari, who had been held by United States immigration authorities for months, arrived in Tehran. Both men had been infected with the coronavirus while in custody, and Iranian officials had indicated they would release Mr. White after the scientist had returned home.
White’s mother broke the news of her son’s release.
In a statement on Thursday, Joanne White, his mother, thanked the State Department and Swiss diplomats representing U.S. interests in Iran for helping to secure her son’s return home, saying she owes them “a debt I can never repay.”
“For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC and I have been living a nightmare,” Joanne White said. “I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home.”
U.S. Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, is credited for negotiating White’s release. Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations played a role in raising White’s with the Iranians.
Secretary of State Pompeo released a statement and acknowledged Hook.
“We are bringing another American home. Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran who has been wrongfully jailed in Iran for nearly two years, has been released,” Pompeo said in a statement. “He is now on his way back to the United States, where we look forward to reuniting him with his family. I commend U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook for negotiating Mr. White’s release with the Iranians. I thank the Swiss government and the work of our diplomats for facilitating this successful diplomacy.”
President Trump has had a notable amount of success in the release of U.S. citizens held hostage around the world. He tweeted about White’s return.
…to the UNITED STATES! We have now brought more than 40 American hostages and detainees back home since I took office. Thank you to Iran, it shows a deal is possible!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2020
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, suggests more such exchanges are possible. He claims a number of Iranians are being illegally held in the United States.
Pleased that Dr. Majid Taheri and Mr. White will soon be joining their families.
Prof. Sirous Asgari was happily reunited with his family on Weds.
This can happen for all prisoners. No need for cherry picking.
Iranian hostages held in—and on behalf of—the US should come home.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 4, 2020
Prisoner releases are part of the Trump administration’s 12 demands made to Iran in order to ease sanctions and re-establish diplomatic and commercial ties in 2019.
White’s mother says her son will tell his story when he is ready.