Iran to Release U.S. Permanent Resident, Lebanon Says
The Iranian government has agreed to release Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident and a Lebanese citizen, who has been imprisoned in Tehran for nearly 3 ½ years, according to the Lebanese government.
The Lebanese foreign minister issued a statement Tuesday saying that negotiations have reached a breakthrough and that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has agreed to extradite Zakka, a 52-year-old IT expert who had lived for years in Washington, D.C., to Lebanon before his release.
“After long and intensive mediation, the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon contacted the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants and informed him of Tehran’s response that President Hassan Rouhani is ready to receive a Lebanese delegation at any time for the extradition of the Lebanese prisoner Nizar Zakka,” the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants thanks the Iranian authorities for approving this step and moving forward with bilateral relations,” the statement added.
A State Department spokesperson on Wednesday acknowledged seeing media reports of Zakka’s pending release and called it a “matter between Lebanon and Iran.”
“We welcome the release of any unjustly held foreign detainees in Iran,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “It would be a good day for the Zakka family if Mr. Zakka is allowed to return home to Lebanon.”
Zakka (above, in a file photo) was arrested on espionage charges in September 2015 after participating in a government-sponsored Tehran conference on women and sustainable development. He had been invited to participate in the conference by Shahindokht Molaverdi, Iran’s then-vice president for women and family affairs.
In August 2017 an Iranian appeals court upheld a previous 10-year prison sentence and a $4.2 million fine for espionage. Zakka’s attorney and family have said the charges were false.
Nizar Zakka’s Twitter account on Tuesday put out a statement saying that “he is looking forward to addressing the public very soon in Beirut,” but advising extreme caution because of the sensitivity of the “current situation.”
“We highly value the support Nizar Zakka has received,” the statement says. “… We extend our sincere gratitude and thanks to his Excellency President Michel Aoun and his His Excellency Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gebren Bassil, who thanks to their relentless efforts, the initiative to release Nizar has reached success.”
Zakka’s attorney, Jason Poblete, tweeted a statement, noting “that after almost four years, Mr. Zakka looks forward to some day, hopefully soon, rejoining his family & friends. This reunion would be sweeter if it coincides with #EID.”
In early April, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a summit for dozens of family members of Americans imprisoned overseas. The State Department didn’t release their names but some of the family members identified themselves. Participants included Babak Namazi, whose father, Baquer, and brother, Siamak, are imprisoned in Iran, as well as Deborah Tice, whose son, Austin Tice, has been held captive in Syria for more than six years.
Pompeo implored the family members not to give up hope of seeing their loved ones freed but said the U.S. government would not pay ransom in exchange for their freedom.
He said efforts to bring their family members home was a top priority for President Trump, and the State Department had previously appointed a special presidential envoy for hostage affairs to work full time on their cases.