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Inside the US-Iran prisoner swap, and what comes next

Can Washington and Tehran build on the success of the Swiss facilitated exchange?
Iranian professor Massoud Soleimani is seen next to Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during his arrival at Mehrabad airport, in Tehran, Iran December 7, 2019. Picture taken December 7, 2019. West Asia News Agency (WANA) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY - RC2VQD9YNUU9

Days before an Iranian stem cell scientist was due to plead guilty and be sentenced to time served by an Atlanta judge as part of a carefully negotiated prisoner swap that would lead to the release by Iran of Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang, a potential spoiler emerged.

State Department Iran envoy Brian Hook sent a message to the Swiss and Iranians that former New Mexico governor and US Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson was not authorized to negotiate the swap by the US government, according to a person involved in the negotiations. Instead, the Justice Department directed the US attorney in Atlanta to drop all charges against the stem cell scientist, Masoud Soleimani.

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