An Iranian doctor based in Florida returned to his homeland Monday after being part of a swap that saw US Navy veteran Michael White, who was held by Iran, return to America.
The semiofficial Fars news agency published an image of Matteo Taerri being greeted at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport by Foreign Ministry officials and his family. The agency and state television identified Taerri by his Persian name, Majid.
The swap is the latest in Iran’s strategy of taking prisoners who it can then use to swap with the US and other Western countries. Tehran is currently keeping several Westerners imprisoned including the high-profile cases of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah.
According to the Associated Press, the Westerners are “likely to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, who attended the airport ceremony for Taerri, said Iran had “mobilized” its potential to release other Iranians in the US, without elaborating.
On Sunday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that Iran was ready for more prisoner exchanges.
Relations with #Iran have become more difficult after Tehran sentenced a French-Iranian academic to prison, #France’s foreign minister says, adding that the ruling was a politically motivated decision. https://t.co/4KthJjdhiz— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) May 27, 2020
Matteo Taerri and Michael White prisoner swap
Taerri, a dermatologist, had been charged with attempting to export a filter to Iran that he said was for vaccine research but that US authorities said required a license because it could be used for chemical and biological warfare purposes. He was also accused of structuring a series of bank deposits below $10,000 to evade reporting requirements under federal law.
He pleaded guilty late last year and has already served months behind bars. But in April, he was permitted to be free on bond after the Justice Department withdrew its request to have him detained, citing what it said were significant foreign policy interests.
Iran allowed Michael White, of Imperial Beach, California, to leave the country Thursday. He was detained in July 2018 while visiting a girlfriend in Iran. He was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online.
White was released from prison in March on a medical furlough that required him to remain in the country in the care of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents America’s interests in Iran.
Earlier last week, an Iranian scientist named Sirous Asgari separately returned to Tehran after being acquitted in a federal trade secrets case and deported. Asgari’s departure had been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, and his supporters say the scientist contracted the virus while being held.
The White-Taerri swap comes after months of quiet diplomacy, even as the US under President Donald Trump continues a maximum-pressure campaign targeting Iran after unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.
The two countries had been locked in a series of escalating incidents, including the US drone strike killing Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad and an Iranian ballistic missile attack targeting American troops in Iraq.
With The Associated Press