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US Navy veteran detained in Iran has been released

Michael White, an American detained in Iran, was released on Thursday after more than a year in custody, according to White's mother and a person familiar with the negotiations. **Credit: Free Michael White Campaign/Joanna White**

    (CNN) — Michael White, an American detained in Iran, was released on Thursday after more than a year in custody.

His mother, Joanne White, confirmed in a statement that he has been freed, saying “the nightmare is over.”

White traveled to Iran in July 2018. In January 2019, the Iranian government confirmed that White had been arrested in the city of Mashhad “a while ago.” The State Department said he had been detained since 2018 and was serving a 13-year sentence. He had been charged with insulting Iran’s Supreme Leader and posting private information online.

President Donald Trump touted the 48-year-old Navy veteran’s release in a tweet Thursday.

“We expect him to be home with his family in America very soon,” Trump wrote. “I will never stop working to secure the release of all Americans held hostage overseas!”

Trump thanked the Swiss government for its assistance in securing White’s release. Because the US does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, Switzerland represents US interests there.

Joanne White said, “For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and I have been living a nightmare. I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home.”

“We understand there is great interest in Michael’s story. In time, Michael will tell it himself, his way,” Joanne White said, asking for privacy.

Joanne White offered her prayers to the families of Morad Tahbaz and Baquer and Siamak Namazi, Americans who remain detained in Iran, as well as “the families of so many other wrongfully detained Americans around the world.”

She thanked the State Department, Swiss diplomats, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, family spokesperson Jonathan Franks, lawyer Mark Zaid and TV personality Montel Williams, who she said made it possible for Franks to spend so much time on her son’s case.

Richardson said in a statement that he was “glad and relieved that that Mike is on his way home to get treated and rejoin Joanne and his family,” but noted that it “should have and could have been done earlier.”

According to the Richardson Center, the former governor and diplomat “met with senior Iranian officials regularly, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations Majid Ravanchi.”

“The negotiations were complicated, especially given the high tensions and exchange of violence between the U.S. and Iran in recent months,” the center said. Their statement also thanked the Qatari government for its assistance.

According to a State Department official, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook was in Switzerland Thursday to meet Michael White when he lands. Michael White is expected to return to the US and eventually go to Arizona to be with his mother. This official said there are currently no plans for a White House visit, but that could change.

The State Department has not commented on Michael White’s release.

As coronavirus swept the globe, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for Iran to release Americans who are being wrongfully detained and warned that the US would hold Tehran responsible if any of them died from the coronavirus.

“Our response will be decisive,” Pompeo warned in a statement in March.

White had been admitted to hospital with Covid symptoms

Michael White, whose family said he has underlying medical conditions, was released on medical furlough in March. He was admitted to the hospital later that month with Covid-related symptoms. According to the Richardson Center, he was diagnosed with coronavirus and released to a hotel room after being discharged from the hospital. He remained out on furlough at the time of his release to the US.

On Wednesday, Michael White received a medical evaluation and was sent to buy new clothes, according to a person familiar with the negotiations, signaling that his release was imminent.

In a phone call with his family shortly after Christmas 2019 — the audio of which was exclusively shared with CNN — Michael White described the conditions of his imprisonment.

“They’ve done everything to press me,” he said. “They put me in isolation. They subjected me to torturous conditions, deprivation of food and water, numerous times.”

“I’m going crazy. This place is a junk hole,” Michael White said. “It got so bad, I didn’t know if they were ever going to let me out. I tried to hang myself there.”

At the time of CNN’s report on the audio in January, Iranian officials had not responded to requests for comment on Michael White’s allegations.

Michael White was freed after an Iranian scientist was returned to the country after being detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Dr. Sirous Asgari was taken into custody for “circumventing US trade sanctions” and acquitted in 2019 by a US court, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported. He was later detained by ICE, according to IRNA.

US officials denied that Asgari’s return to Iran was part of a prisoner exchange for White.

“The United States has tried to deport Sirous Asgari since December 2019, but the Iranian government repeatedly has held up the process. As the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed today, Mr. Asgari is not and has never been a participant in any prisoner swap with Iran,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said earlier this week.

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