An Iranian researcher who has been jailed for several years in the United States despite being acquitted in a case of business secrets is on his way back to Iran on Tuesday after being deported by US authorities.
Professor Sirous Asgari was in the air on a flight back to Tehran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an Instagram post and wrote: “Congratulations to his wife and his esteemed family,”
There was no immediate word on Iranian state media about the flight.
Asgari, a professor at Iran’s Sharif University of Technology, was indicted in April 2016 while on an academic research visit to the United States.
He was accused by federal prosecutors of trying to steal secret research from Case Western Reserve University. The Cleveland School had been working on a project for the US Navy Office of Naval Research to create corrosive stainless steel.
Asgari was finally acquitted in November 201
Ken Cuccinelli, acting assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told the Associated Press that it was trying to deport Asgari on December 12 after his acquittal. However, he said that Iran refused to recognize him as a legitimate Iranian or provide him with a validated passport until the end of February 2020.
When Asgari got his passport, DHS made several attempts to fly him back to Iran and bought tickets for flights on March 10, March 18, March 23, April 1 and May 1, according to Cuccinelli. Each of these flights was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Asgari’s supporters told The Guardian magazine in April that he was affected by the corona virus while he was imprisoned. He had been held at Louisiana’s Winn Correctional Center by US immigration and customs management prior to his deportation.
Iran’s Deputy Education Minister, Hossein Salar Amoli, recently said that Asgari recovered from the virus and could travel, the state IRNA news agency reported.
It was unclear whether Iran would release a US prisoner as part of an agreement.
Assal Rad, of the National Iranian American Council, said that if there was a prisoner exchange, it would mark a positive step forward in tense relations between rivals.
“The speculation comes from the fact that a prisoner exchange is the lowest fruit of diplomacy in a situation where you want to see a relationship develop. Only a few months ago we were on the brink of war, so the idea of a prisoner exchange is always the first diplomatic one. step, “Rad told Al Jazeera.
In Tehran, Al Jazeera Zein Basravi reported that Asgari had become “a bit of a playing card in a political game” between Iran and the United States.
“There were frustrations from US officials that Iran did not make the arrangements for Asgari, as did other Iranian citizens who the US wants to return,” Basravi said.
“And Iran has criticized US officials over and over again in recent weeks and months for not making a quick return of its citizens.”
It is believed that 20 Iranian citizens are being held in the United States, and five Americans who have Iranian custody, he added.
“There has been a lot of speculation as to whether any of the detainees being held in Iran will be released because Asgari is on a plane coming home,” Basravi said.
“But there are many others who say that the release of Asgari is basically a function of the US” system “, not necessarily something that would lead to a prisoner change. However, there is some speculation that this could lead to some sort of exchange of citizens, and the Iranian government would undoubtedly use Asgari’s return as an opportunity to get some positive publicity. “
Among US citizens held in Iran is US Navy veteran Michael White, who was arrested in July 2018 when he visited a girlfriend in Iran. He was convicted of insulting Iran’s top leader and publishing private information online.
He was released from prison in March on a medical basis demanding that he remain in the country under the care of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests. White is among tens of thousands of prisoners granted medical birds by Iran, which was one of the first countries hit hard by the spreading coronavirus.
In December last year, Iran released a graduate student from Princeton University who was held for three years on widely disputed espionage charges in exchange for the release of another interned Iranian researcher.
In March, the family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran 13 years ago on an unauthorized CIA mission, said they had been informed by U.S. officials that Levinson was probably dead. They have not worked out how they made that decision.
Westerners and Iranian dual citizens with ties to the West are often tried and convicted in trials in Iran, only later to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
The liberation comes as the United States, under President Donald Trump, continues a “maximum pressure” campaign targeting Iran following unilateral withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.
Meanwhile, the two countries have seen a series of escalating incidents, including the US drone attack killed an Iranian general in Baghdad, and an Iranian ballistic missile attack on US troops in Iraq.