American citizen and U.S. Navy veteran Michael R. White has been arrested by the Iranian government, becoming the first person arrested by Iran in the Trump era.
The Associated Press reports the arrest comes amid hardened negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. In the past, according to the report, Iran used the release of detained Americans as a factor in the negotiation process to garner advantageous or otherwise unattainable leverage.
The country’s quasi-official news agency Tasnim confirmed White’s arrest, the Associated Press reports:
White’s detention adds new pressure to the rising tension between Iran and the U.S., which under Trump has pursued a maximalist campaign against Tehran that includes pulling out of its nuclear deal with world powers.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, reported the confirmation Wednesday, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi.
“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 incarceration, Ghasemi was quoted as saying.
According to the report, White’s mother was initially alerted of her son’s arrest three weeks ago. His arrest was only recently confirmed.
The Trump administration has maintained a distant relation with Iran, a country former U.S. President Obama scored a nuclear peace agreement with.
Hostilities between the U.S. and Iran escalated when President Trump announced his decision to leave the nuclear agreement signed by his predecessor.
As a result, Iran vowed to re-implement their nuclear program and to ramp up a nuclear arsenal.
While White’s arrest was the first to occur under President Trump’s administration, the veteran is among other Americans currently detained in Iran, the Associated Press reports.
Here are the others:
Iranian-American Siamak Namazi and his 82-year-old father Baquer, a former UNICEF representative who served as governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province under the U.S.-backed shah, are both serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges. Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively. Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly “infiltrating” the country while doing doctoral research on Iran’s Qajar dynasty.
Iranian-American Robin Shahini was released on bail in 2017 after staging a hunger strike while serving an 18-year prison sentence for “collaboration with a hostile government.” A lawsuit filed on his behalf in U.S. District Court in Washington says he’s since returned to America.
Also in an Iranian prison is Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon who advocated for internet freedom and has done work for the U.S. government. He was sentenced to 10 years on espionage-related charges.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, though his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance. Tehran now says it has no information about him.