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U.S. Navy vet freed from Iran after nearly 2 years in custody

Michael White's mother fears for his health
Michael White's mother fears for his health 02:28

Washington — A U.S. Navy veteran who was detained in Iran for nearly two years is returning to the U.S., Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday.

Michael White was imprisoned by Iranian authorities in July 2018 when he traveled to the country to visit his Iranian girlfriend. He was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison in March 2019 on charges that he had insulted Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and posted a private photo on social media. He was recently released from prison on medical furlough due to the coronavirus, but was required to stay in the country.

"We are bringing another American home. Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran who has been wrongfully jailed in Iran for nearly two years, has been released," Pompeo said in a statement. "He is now on his way back to the United States, where we look forward to reuniting him with his family. I commend U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook for negotiating Mr. White's release with the Iranians. I thank the Swiss government and the work of our diplomats for facilitating this successful diplomacy."

President Trump tweeted about White's return, writing, "I just got off the phone with former American hostage Michael White, who is now in Zurich after being released from Iran. He will be on a U.S. plane shortly, and is COMING HOME to the UNITED STATES."

In a statement on Thursday, Joanne White, his mother, thanked the State Department and Swiss diplomats representing U.S. interests in Iran for helping to secure her son's return home, saying she owes them "a debt I can never repay."

"For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC and I have been living a nightmare," Joanne White said. "I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home."

White's family has maintained his innocence and raised concerns about his failing health during his detention, including a cancer scare. Joanne White told CBS News last September she was "really worried he'll die over there." 

In March, White was among thousands of prisoners who were granted medical furlough and released from prison to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which ravaged the country. He was released into the custody of the Swiss Embassy. Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has negotiated the release of Americans held abroad for years, implored Iranian authorities at the time to allow White to return to the U.S. 

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Iran has granted a medical furlough to Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran who was imprisoned in Iran. Michael White's Family / Handout

On Thursday, U.S. officials told CBS News that Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, would accompany White on his flight home.

White's return to the U.S. comes days after an Iranian scientist was freed from a U.S. prison and returned to the Islamic republic. Sirous Asgari was accused of stealing trade secrets and deported on Tuesday, the country's foreign minister said.

Margaret Brennan, Christina Ruffini and Tucker Reals contributed reporting.

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