The U.S. State Department says the release of an Iranian scientist who was deported from the United States on Tuesday is not part of a prisoner swap.
Sirous Asgari who was acquitted of stealing scientific secrets in the United States was still in detention as the U.S. said it wants to deport him.
Photos published by Sharif University of Technology where Mr. Asgari was a professor show him with his family and colleagues from the university at what appears to be the state lounge of Imam Khomeini Airport. No officials appear to have been present.
Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif on Tuesday in an Instagram post said Mr. Asgari was en route to Iran but did not disclose from where in the U.S. he was returning or where he was heading.
The United States and Iran have both refuted that Asgari's release was part of a deal to bring American prisoner Michael White home. White is serving a 10-year sentence in Mashhad for "publishing a private photo". He was released from prison due to the fear of catching coronavirus and is currently staying at the Swiss embassy in Tehran.
The Spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State on Tuesday denied that the release of Iranian national Sirous Asgari was part of a prisoner swap deal. “The United States has tried to deport Sirous Asgari since December 2019, but the Iranian government repeatedly has held up the process,” Morgan Ortagus told the National Interest on Tuesday.
“As the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed today, Mr. Asgari is not and has never been a participant in any prisoner swap with Iran," she said.
Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi on Tuesday also denied a prisoner swap was taking place with the United States where Mr Asgari was held for three years in detention on charges of trying to circumvent U.S. sanctions of which he was acquitted. However, he remained in custody for an expired visa.
In a tweet on Tuesday Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cucinelli said Asgari and White had never been related. "We have been trying to deport Asgari since last year, being stalled every step of the way by the Iranian government".
"We wish Iran was so enthusiastic to get its illegal nationals back as they would have us all believe, and suggested that Iran take the other 10 currently in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody with removal orders.
"If Zarif wasn’t blowing smoke, they would’ve already made arrangements for these other 10. But instead, they stall," he charged.