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  • Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif walks with Iranian professor Massoud Soleimani as he arrives at Mehrabad airport, in Tehran, Iran December 7, 2019.

    Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif walks with Iranian professor Massoud Soleimani as he arrives at Mehrabad airport, in Tehran, Iran December 7, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 December 2019

Iran released Xiyue Wang, arrested for espionage, while the United States released Iranian Massoud Soleimani accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Tehran

The United States and Iran each released a prisoner Saturday in a rare act of cooperation between two former enemies whose ties have worsened since President Donald Trump took office.

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The Persian nation released Xiyue Wang, a U.S. citizen who had been held for three years charged for espionage, while the United States released Iranian Massoud Soleimani, a stem cell researcher arrested last year on charges of sanctions violations.

A senior U.S. official said Washington hoped that Wang's release would lead to the release of other U.S. citizens detained in Iran and that it was a sign that Tehran was willing to discuss other issues. While President Donald Trump thanked Iran for what he called a "very fair negotiation" that led to the exchange.

The president said the exchange demonstrated that both countries "can make a deal together." In an earlier statement, Trump thanked the Swiss government whose mediation was vital in the negotiation process to free the prisoners.

The successful swap was the result of about four weeks of intense negotiations.

"Releasing Americans held in captivity is vitally important to my administration, and we will continue to work hard to bring home all of our citizens unjustly held in captivity abroad," Trump said.

Arriving in Tehran, Soleimani told reporters that those who held him were "petty," adding that he "told them I had patients who needed my help and they said who cares. Let them die." 

As tensions between both nations escalate, the dispute can be traced back to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal last year, and subsequently reimposed tough sanctions on Iran’s oil industry to strangle the country’s economy. 

Measures got worse on April 22, as Trump decided to eliminate all waivers issued to eight economies allowing them to buy Iranian oil, basically imposing third-party sanctions. 

As a response, Senior Iranian officials warned Tehran would boost its uranium enrichment, beyond the permitted 3.67 percent, every 60 days unless European powers protect them from U.S. sanctions.

In a tit-for-tat, the U.S. increased its threat in the region by deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, a bomber task force of B-52s, an increased amount of soldiers, and a Patriot missile defense battery in a bid to intimidate Iran. 

In June, the Persian nation downed a U.S. reconnaissance RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned drone in the southern province of Hormozgan, as it violated the country's airspace.

With the risk of the nuclear deal falling apart and warmongering intensifying, things reached a high point with the U.S. and its allies accusing Tehran of attacking Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. During the 74th session of the U.N. General Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to promote talks between the foes but failed.

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