US Navy veteran Michael White (left) poses with US Special Envoy to Iran Brian Hook at Zurich Airport in Zurich, Switzerland, on Thursday. US State Department/AFP
A US Navy veteran whose family said his only crime was falling in love left Iran on Thursday after nearly two years of detention, winning his freedom as part of a deal that spared an American-Iranian physician from any additional time behind bars.
Michael White flew from Tehran to Zurich, where he was met by diplomat Brian Hook, the US special envoy for Iran who has led the negotiations for the release of White and other American detainees in Iran. White and Hook then departed Zurich on a US government plane.
In Atlanta, meanwhile, a federal judge approved a sentencing agreement for Florida dermatologist Matteo Taerri, who had been charged by the Justice Department with violating US sanctions on Iran as well as banking laws.
Michael White (right) is seen with his mother, Joanne White. File/AP
The developments capped months of quiet talks, assisted by Switzerland, between two countries, that are at bitter odds over US penalties imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal and over the killing by American forces of a top Iranian general in Iraq at the beginning of this year.
White, of Imperial Beach, California, was detained by Iranian authorities in July 2018 while visiting a woman he had met online and fallen in love with. He was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online, and was sentenced to a decade in prison.
"I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely in American custody and on his way home,” White’s mother, Joanne White, said in a statement.
As White flew to Switzerland, US prosecutors completed the American part of the arrangement that Hook negotiated by asking a judge to sentence Taerri to time served on his conviction stemming from the 2018 charges. US officials said Taerri did not pose a national security threat. "We were simultaneously able to secure the release of an American Navy veteran from an Iranian prison and accomplish our law enforcement objectives,” Hook said.Associated Press
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