The US State Department issued a stinging rebuke of France on Sunday after it released an Iranian prisoner wanted by the United States for allegedly evading sanctions.
“The United States deeply regrets France’s unilateral decision to release Iranian national Jalal Rohollahnejad from its custody,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “Rohollahnejad was the subject of a US extradition request. There are multiple outstanding US charges against him related to the illegal export of equipment with military applications in violation of US sanctions.”
France released Rohollahnejad in an apparent prisoner swap with Iran in Friday. Hours later, Iran released Roland Marchal, a French researcher who had been detained by Tehran for more than eight months.
Why it matters: A French court initially approved Rohollahnejad’s extradition to the United States last year. Washington accuses Rohollahnejad of attempting to export industrial microwave systems from the United States to Iran on behalf of a company linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Still, Washington has facilitated its own prisoner exchange with Iran before. In December, the United States released Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian stem cell researcher also accused of sanctions violations, in exchange for Xiyue Wang, an American student who had been detained for 10 years in Iran.
President Donald Trump’s "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran, his 2018 withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the subsequent sanctions have also split the United States and Europe. France and other countries are struggling to salvage the deal, which Iran is no longer complying with.
What’s next: With the prisoner exchange, it is now unlikely that Rohollahnejad will face the US criminal justice system. France and the European signatories to the nuclear deal have also activated the nuclear deal’s dispute resolution mechanism to address Iran’s noncompliance with the accord — even as they hope to salvage it.
Know more: Iran has put American prisoner Michael White on medical furlough, reported diplomatic correspondent Laura Rozen last week. And for the latest on the United States’ pressure campaign against Iran, read congressional correspondent Bryant Harris’ write-up of the latest Iran sanctions Washington implemented last week.