Prisoner exchanges between Iran and United States

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Iran–United States relations
Map indicating locations of Iran and United States


United States
Diplomatic mission
Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the United States
Embassy of Pakistan, Washington, D.C.
Embassy of the United States, Tehran
Interests Section in the Swiss Embassy
Director of the Interest Section Mr. Mehdi AtefatUnited States Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook

The prisoner exchanges between Iran and the United States refer to deals for releasing the respective apprehended citizens of each nation that took place two times on, January 2016 and December 2019. By these swaps, Jason Rezaian, Xiyue Wang and three other United States prisoners were exchanged for two Iranian and six Iranian-Americans, including Masoud Soleimani, a scientist.

The second swap was facilitated by the Swiss government. It was said that efforts to swap prisoners were unrelated to other U.S.-Iranian negotiations.

Back ground[edit]

Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran has imprisoned American citizens on accusations of spying or subversion, whereas Iranians arrested by the United States have been accused of violating American sanctions.[1]

While Iran has proposed negotiations for prisoners exchange in April 2019,[2] an Iranian official said that efforts to swap prisoners were unrelated to other U.S.-Iranian negotiations.[3]

At least four Americans have been detained in Iran and one person has been missing for 12 years. Iran accuses these Americans of spying or subversion. On the other hand, the US accused the Iranian detainee of violating American sanctions. Iranian officials stated that Iranian prisoners in the U.S. number a dozen or more.[1][4] On the other hand, releasing all U.S. prisoners, including Xiyue Wang, Robert Levinson, Siamak Namazi, and Nizar Zakka was requested by the State Department spokesperson.[5] Zarif has said that some of the Iranian detainees suffer from heart conditions and terminal cancer.[4]

Exchanged prisoners[edit]

January 2016[edit]

On the night of July 22, 2014, Iranian government security forces raided Rezaian's Tehran residence and arrested him and his wife. The agents reportedly confiscated laptops, books, and notes [6][7] Rezaian's trial began on May 26, 2015, at Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court. The proceedings were not open to the public. According to his brother, Ali Rezaian, the Iranian government rested its accusations on two pieces of evidence: an American visa application for Jason's wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and a form letter sent to Barack Obama's 2008 White House transition team offering assistance in improving Iran-U.S. relations.[8] On Nov. 22, a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary said Jason had been sentenced to prison but did not provide further details.[9]

On January 16, 2016, it was announced that Rezaian had been released from Iran along with three other United States prisoners.[10][11] On the same day, America delivered $1700 million in frozen accounts to Iran.[12] Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans (Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari) accused of spying for the United States were swapped for one Iranian and six Iranian-Americans (Nader Modanlo, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghani, Arash Ghahreman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Saboun) who were accused of violating US sanctions against Iran.[13][14]

The NYT described the exchange as removing "a big source of irritation" between the two countries ever since their relationship broke down in 1979-1981 Tehran hostage crisis.[15]

December 2019[edit]

For the first time, in April 2019, negotiation over prisoners with the United States was offered publicly by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif during a talk at the Asia Society in New York, when the diplomatic relationship has worsened between two involved countries. Zarif had made the offer previously on 2018 CBS’s “Face the Nation”, calling it “a possibility certainly from a humanitarian perspective,” but one that “requires a change of attitude” by the Trump government. At least four American citizens were imprisoned in Iran and at least a dozen or more Iranians were arrested by the American authorities.[1][16]

An e-mail by a State Department official stated their awareness of Zarif's offer saying that " the United States had repeatedly called for a “humanitarian resolution” of prisoner cases" and “the Iranian regime can demonstrate its seriousness regarding consular issues, including Iranians who have been indicted or convicted of criminal violations of U.S. sanctions laws, by releasing innocent U.S. persons immediately.”[1]

According to a New Yorker report, months of exchange negotiations involving former US Ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, made the exchange of prisoners possible. Trump administration said the deal was "negotiated by current US officials" but Mohsen Baharvand, a top Zarif adviser involved in the exchange process confirmed talks with Richardson and the current administration but also said that "there was absolutely no direct negotiation, not even during the brief swap in Switzerland".[17]

On 9 December 2019, in a deal facilitated by the Swiss government, Iranian prisoner Masoud Soleimani was swapped with Xiyue Wang in Zurich with the Presence of Brian Hook, the US State Department's special Iran representative. Soleimani as a high-profile stem cell scientist was arrested on the charge of violating US sanctions on Iran in October 2018. On the other hand, Xiyue Wang was an American student of Chinese origin who was arrested for "espionage" since 2016.[17]

Reuters described the swap as “a rare act of cooperation between two longtime foes”.[3] On Twitter Trump appreciated Iran for a “very fair negotiation” as well as the Swiss government, he said that it illustrates “the United States and Iran can make a deal together”.[3][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Gladstone, Rick. "Iran's Foreign Minister Proposes Prisoner Exchange With U.S." nytimes. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  2. ^ LEUNG, HILLARY. "Iranian Foreign Minister Proposes a Prisoner Swap With the U.S." Time. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Iran ready for full prisoner swap, 'ball is in the U.S.' court': Zarif". reuters. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Iran Made No Offer, Responded to US Call for Prisoner Swap: Zarif". Tasnim. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  5. ^ FRAZIN, RACHEL. "Iran's foreign minister says U.S. must 'prove that it's serious' ahead of prisoner swap negotiations". the hill. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Raid Leaves Arrested Washington Post Journalist's Home 'Looking Like a Scene from Hell'". International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. July 25, 2014.
  7. ^ "Post reporter, other journalists appear to have been detained in Iran". The Washington Post. July 24, 2014.
  8. ^ Thomas Erdbrink (May 26, 2015). "Jason Rezaian of Washington Post Goes on Trial in Iran". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  9. ^ "US reporter Jason Rezaian 'sentenced' in Iran over spying". BBC. November 22, 2015.
  10. ^ Michael Pearson. "Iran free four U.S. prisoners, including Jason Rezaian, in swap". Retrieved January 16, 2016.
  11. ^ "Jason Rezaian and three other US prisoners leave Iran". BBC. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  12. ^ "Why has Iran imprisoned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe?". The Economist. 16 November 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  13. ^ Karami, Arash. "Iran denies US gave money in exchange for prisoners". monitor. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  14. ^ "Jason Rezaian and three other US prisoners leave Iran". BBC. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  15. ^ Erdbrink, Thomas; Gladstone, Rick. "Iran Frees Americans, Including Jason Rezaian, in Prisoner Swap". NYT. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  16. ^ "Iran proposes prisoner swap for jailed UK national Zaghari-Ratcliffe". france24. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  17. ^ a b Al-Monitor Staff. "Iran ready for 'comprehensive' prisoner swap with the US". monitor. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  18. ^ Morello, Carol. "Iran releases American scholar held since 2016 in prisoner exchange". washingtonpost. Retrieved 7 December 2019.