Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran released after being imprisoned in Iran for nearly two years, has expressed his gratitude to President Donald Trump as he headed back to the United States.
“I want to extend my personal thanks to President Trump for his efforts both diplomatically and otherwise,” he told Fox News on the airport tarmac in Zurich, Switzerland, on Thursday evening before heading on to the U.S.
“It’s making America great again and I look forward to what’s going to happen here in the future,” he added.
White’s release follows months of indirect communication between Washington and Tehran over American prisoners via the Swiss government, NBC News previously reported. The Swiss government has represented U.S. interests in the country for the past four decades since the collapse of American-Iranian diplomatic relations.
The U.S. Navy veteran was detained in Iran in July 2018 after visiting a girlfriend there whom he had met online. White was sentenced to 13 years in prison after he was convicted of insulting the country’s top leader and displaying a private photo publicly.
White had been in fragile health and had been undergoing treatment for cancer before his detention, and was granted medical furlough in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.
White told Fox News that he had contracted coronavirus while in prison before being released on furlough.
“I’m recovering pretty decently, getting back into shape,” he said. “I’m getting a lot better as a result of the Swiss embassy and all the efforts of the Trump administration.”
It was not immediately clear if White was ever tested for the disease, but his family said in March that he had been hospitalized with symptoms consistent with the virus.
His pre-existing medical conditions made him vulnerable to COVID-19, his family had said and White’s mother had told NBC News she feared her son would die in Iran.
Iran has released tens of thousands of prisoners on temporary leave during the coronavirus outbreak to curb the spread of the disease inside its prisons.
White also revealed the first thing he wanted to do when he got home.
“I’m going to Disney World,” he said.
White’s release came the day after Washington deported Iranian scientist Sirous Asgari, after acquitting him of federal charges of trading secrets related to his research.
Despite widespread speculation, both U.S. and Iranian officials denied that Asgari’s release was part of any prisoner swap.
Meanwhile, Majid Taheri, who was imprisoned in the U.S. on sanctions charges, was also released, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
White was pictured Thursday on the tarmac in Zurich along with U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook. Two U.S. officials told NBC News that Hook had planned to greet White in Zurich and would accompany him back to the United States on an American plane.
Both Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the news and pledged to work to release other Americans detained overseas.
Pompeo called for the release of other U.S. citizens Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, and Morad Tahbaz still held in Iran.
He also called for an account of the fate of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 and is now believed to be dead.
Abigail Williams contributed.