But the Iranian government may have inadvertently offered a new clue recently. In a filing to the United Nations, it referred to an “ongoing case” against him before Iran’s Revolutionary Court. The Trump administration, meanwhile, raised the potential reward for information leading to his whereabouts to a total of $25 million.
Read: Trying to kill the Iran deal could end up saving it
This fall, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif hinted that he was looking for another prisoner exchange, saying he had submitted a list to the U.S. of Iranians he hoped would be freed from American jails. The U.S. side gave no public indication of interest at the time. But in a background phone call with reporters this morning, a senior administration official celebrated Wang’s release and said that the administration would continue to work for the freedom of other American hostages around the world. Wang’s release, the official said, should be viewed by other families as a hopeful sign. “We haven’t forgotten them,” the official said.
Meanwhile, the administration continues to squeeze Iran financially in pursuit of a broad set of objectives that include not only prisoner releases but also a halt to backing regional proxies, an end to ballistic-missile testing, and expanded restrictions on its nuclear program. More recently, as protests have swept the country, the administration has cheered the protesters and condemned the regime’s violent crackdown in response. On Thursday, Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, declared that the protests demonstrated the regime’s loss of legitimacy among broad segments of the population. He also indicated that there would be still more pressure, and that the State Department sought to sanction two Iranian prisons he said were guilty of gross human-rights abuses in their detentions of protesters.
It’s unlikely that Wang’s release will change this broader campaign to squeeze the Iranian government, or even that it was intended to, especially while other Americans remain behind bars. And if, in fact, Wang’s release was a response to the administration’s economic pressure campaign, the administration may be encouraged to double down in hopes of getting even more concessions. In congressional testimony earlier this month, family members of some Western hostages called for still more pressure on the regime over their loved ones’ cases. But critics of the overall sanctions program have said that it will only encourage Tehran to lash out more in the region, as it apparently did over the summer with attacks on shipping and the shooting down of a U.S. drone.
Read: The high-stakes confrontation between Trump and Khamenei
As for Wang, he will, after three years, finally be reunited with his wife, Hua Qu, and his son, Shaofan, who was only 3 when his father disappeared. At a press conference over the summer, Qu noted that her son was now 6, meaning his father had spent half of the boy’s life behind bars in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
At her Washington, D.C., appearance in August, Qu described the conditions of his confinement, wistfully noting that he was still a “nerd” and that he had asked her to send academic books when she could. “Even now, books, when he gets hold of them, [give a] few moments of comfort amid the horrible conditions of Evin Prison,” she said.
Today she said in a statement, “Our family is complete once again.”