Iranian scientist back home after prisoner swap with US

Taheri (third right) greeted at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport upon arrival. (Twitter pic/IranGov.ir)

TEHRAN: Iranian scientist Majid Taheri returned home Monday after his release from jail in the US as part of a prisoner exchange, semi-official news agency Isna reported.

Taheri was greeted at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport by Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, said Isna, which published a picture of the pair speaking to reporters.

The scientist, who had been detained in the US for 16 months, was freed on Thursday as Iran released US Navy veteran Michael White.

“I hope to see the release of (other Iranians imprisoned abroad) in the near future,” Ansari said, adding his ministry would do its best to achieve this.

Taheri for his part thanked Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“I thank the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and dear officials, including Mr Zarif, who worked hard, and other officials who took months to help release me, as an Iranian physician accused of circumventing US sanctions on medicine,” he was quoted as saying.

Taheri was the second scientist to have returned to Iran from the US in the past week, after Cyrus Asgari flew home on Wednesday.

A US federal judge issued an order to free Taheri – an Iranian-American who had been working at a clinic in Tampa, Florida – on time served.

Taheri had been accused of violating US sanctions by sending a technical item to Iran and in December pleaded guilty to charges he violated financial reporting requirements by depositing US$277,344 at a bank, repeatedly showing up with loose cash, according to court documents.

On Monday he rejected accusations against him as “unfair and false”, according to Iran’s Fars news agency.

“I was helping the University of Tehran to develop a cancer vaccine, especially for women,” he was quoted as saying.

Iran-US tensions have soared in recent years as President Donald Trump has pursued a campaign of “maximum pressure” against America’s sworn arch enemy.

Since unilaterally withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Trump has hit the Islamic republic with sweeping sanctions.

The two sides appeared to come to the brink of a direct conflict for the second time in less than a year in January, when Trump ordered an air strike that killed one of Iran’s top generals, Qassem Soleimani.