Navy veteran released from Iran after deal with Tehran (

By Jennifer Hansler, Vivian Salama, Kylie Atwood and Katelyn Polantz | CNN

Michael White, an American detained in Iran, was released on Thursday after more than a year in custody in a deal with Tehran.

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

As part of the deal to free Michael White, the US agreed to release Matteo Taerri, also known as Majid Taheri, an Iranian American doctor who had violated US sanctions against Iran, according to a US official.

White, a 48-year-old Navy veteran, traveled to Iran in July 2018 to visit a woman he said was his girlfriend. 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.

White’s release comes amid continued tensions between Washington and Tehran as the Trump administration pursues its policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran.

It also comes a day after Iranian scientist Sirous Asgari was deported from the US. The State Department denied that Asgari’s release was part of a prisoner swap.

In her statement Thursday, Joanne White said she had been “living a nightmare” for the 683 days of her son’s detainment.

“I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home,” she said, but asked for privacy. “We understand there is great interest in Michael’s story. In time, Michael will tell it himself, his way.”

White had been admitted to hospital with Covid symptoms
Michael White was imprisoned in Mashhad until March, when he was released on medical furlough and transferred to Tehran.

In a phone call with his family shortly after Christmas 2019 — the audio of which was exclusively shared with CNN — he described the conditions of his imprisonment, saying he was “going crazy.”

“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.”

Following his release in March, Michael White, whose family says he has medical conditions, 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.

He was met in Zurich, Switzerland, Thursday by US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook Thursday. He is expected to return to the US and eventually go to Arizona to be with his mother.

A State Department official said there were currently no plans for Michael White to visit the White House. President Donald Trump touted his release in a tweet Thursday.

In a statement Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Hook “for negotiating Mr. White’s release with the Iranians.” He also thanked “the Swiss government and the work of our diplomats for facilitating this successful diplomacy.” Because the US does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, Switzerland represents US interests there.

According to Joanne White, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also played a role in her son’s release. She thanked him for “repeatedly raising Michael’s case with Iranian officials and delivering my personal pleas for my son’s freedom.”

Richardson, who was a former ambassador to the United Nations, 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.

A deal to free White

As part of the deal to release Michael White, the US released Taerri, an Iranian-American doctor based in Florida whose lawyer said he has lived in the US for decades.

Taerri was charged in federal court in 2018 for evading banking reporting requirements and for failing to get approval to send a medical device to Iran, in violation of US sanctions.

The US government had said in court filings the medical device Taerri exported was regulated to control chemical and biological weapons and terrorism. Taerri maintained he had sent it for legitimate medical research reasons.

Separately, he also used used a bank account in 2018 under his name to make almost $300,000 in cash deposits from the medical clinic where he worked that were low enough to evade federal deposit reporting requirements. He pleaded guilty to both that and the export charge.

He was released from custody in the US two months ago, and was living in home confinement.

As part of the Justice Department’s agreement and his sentence from the judge, Taerri is allowed to leave the US this week for Iran for medical purposes and to visit family. He plans to return to the US in the fall, his lawyer said.

On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted about Michael White, Asgari and Taerri.

“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,” he wrote. “This can happen for all prisoners. No need for cherry picking. Iranian hostages held in—and on behalf of—the US should come home.”

Other Americans remain detained in Iran

Although Michael White was released, other Americans remain imprisoned in Iran, including Baquer and Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz.

In his statement Thursday, Pompeo called for their release, saying “the United States will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones.”

Babak Namazi, whose father and brother remain imprisoned in Iran, said he was happy for Michael White, but noted that it was hard to see his family members once again passed over.

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