Iran officially confirmed the detention of US navy veteran Michael R. White, making him the first American known to be arrested under US President Donald Trump’s administration. The detention of 46-year-old exacerbated the already strained relations between Washington and Tehran. Iran hasn’t revealed the cause of the detention.
Iran holds a notorious track record of taking westerners and dual nationals in its captivity to have an upper hand in diplomatic negotiations.
US ex-serviceman’s arrest was first reported by IranWire, an online news agency run by Maziar Bahari, who himself has been detained by Iranian government in 2009. He interviewed a former Iranian prisoner who said he met White in October at Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad. Mashhad is about 95 kilometers (60 miles) east of Tehran, Iran’s capital.
Iranwire also reported the mistreatment of the captives in Mashhad, backed by a statment from a former prisoner who described it as “psychological warfare.”Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi outrighly denied these accusations.
Iran’s semi-official news agency Tasnim made the news of captivity official on Wednesday by citing Ghasemi’s statement mentioning White’s imprisonment. He said, “An American citizen was arrested in the city of Mashhad some time ago and his case was conveyed to the U.S administration on the first days” of his detention.
On Monday New York Times, reporting White’s arrest quoted his mother, Joanne White saying that her son who was the resident of California went to Iran to see his girlfirend and was supposed to return on July 27. There were no reports of him boarding the flight. She added that she hadn’t heard from him since July and three weeks ago she got to know that her son is alive and has been detained by Iran. According to his mother, White has been suffering from neck tumor and asthma.
It is believed that Iran’s relation with US worsened under Trump administration which otherwise slightly got better under the previous US president Barack Obama’s reign. One of the key causes of the tensed up situation is said to be Trump’s decision to pull out of nuclear deal in May and impose sanctions on Iran. Trump justified his decision in order to build pressure on Iran to curtail its ballistic missile program and its increasing influence in the Middle East.