Iran released U.S. Navy veteran Michael White on Thursday, allowing him to fly home via Switzerland, which handles U.S. diplomatic operations in Iran.
According to the Associated Press, White departed Iran on a Swiss government aircraft bound for Zurich, where he was met by U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook. Hook will accompany White back to the United States.
“For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC 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,” White’s mother Joanne said in a statement on Thursday confirming his release.
“We understand there is great interest in Michael’s story. In time, Michael will tell it himself, his way,” she added, thanking the U.S. State Department, the Swiss diplomatic corps, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, among others, for their efforts on her son’s behalf. She also thanked the American people for their support and prayers.
White was sentenced to ten years in prison by an Iranian court on characteristically sketchy charges, including an allegation that he “insulted” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranians knew he had serious health problems, including cancer, but they threw him into their hellish Evin prison anyway. His family has long charged the Iranian regime with neglecting his health concerns.
White was granted parole, along with some 85,000 other prisoners, in March as the coronavirus ravaged Iran. He was still forced to remain in Iran and was essentially placed under house arrest at the Swiss Embassy. The Trump administration resolutely demanded his full release, along with the release of other “wrongfully detained Americans in Iran,” as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it.
An Iranian scientist named Sirous Asgari, who had been charged with stealing trade secrets in the United States, was released and sent back to Iran on Wednesday. Both U.S. and Iranian officials insisted Asgari’s release was not part of a prisoner swap. U.S. authorities said his release would have been implemented earlier, but was delayed for medical reasons because he tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus.