Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen with US permanent residency, has said that his travel to Lebanon immediately after his release from prison in Iran was a calculated move made by Tehran to show that it wasn’t giving concessions to Washington.
Zakka told Asharq Al-Awsat in New York that his June 11 release was part of a deal with the US, saying that Lebanon and Hezbollah were just a cover up.
When Zakka was freed, officials in Tehran said his release was partly due to Iran’s close ties with Lebanon’s Hezbollah. While Beirut had said that Lebanese President Michel Aoun had reached out to Iran.
In his remarks to the newspaper, Zakka expected another possible prisoner exchange between Washington and Tehran.
He said Princeton University doctoral student Xiyue Wang, a US citizen who was detained by Iranian authorities in August 2016, could be released after the Trump administration recently deported Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States and was sentenced by a federal court to time served.
She was indicted in 2015 in Minnesota and arrested in Australia in 2017.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined on Thursday to discuss the possibility of a prisoner exchange between Washington and Tehran after the US deported the Iranian woman.
In New York, Zakka attended an anti-Iran conference and a meeting that brought together newly-appointed White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, the US State Department’s special representative for Iran Brian Hook, and other officials who discussed ways to carry out a prisoner swap between Washington and Tehran, and put more pressure on Iran.
Zakka, an information technology professional, was held for about three years and nine months after being seized without warning in September 2015 on his way out of Iran, where he said had been officially invited to attend a conference.
“My release came following negotiations carried out by the Americans,” said Zakka. “Iran freed me after coming under US pressure and then credited (Hezbollah leader) Hassan Nasrallah because I am Lebanese.”
Zakka hailed the US maximum pressure on the Iranian regime, which he said knows well how to circumvent sanctions.
Zakka who was kidnapping by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and imprisoned on charges of spying for the United States told Lebanese TV channel MTV after he arrived in Beirut last June following his release from jail : “In the beginning, I was subjected to all kinds of torture. In the second phase the torture was mental, moral and psychological.”
He said he would now devote himself to trying to secure the release of other prisoners who remained in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. “Evin is not a place you would hope anyone to stay in,” he said. “It’s the ugliest place.”
Zakka’s frequent pleas to the Lebanese government to come to his aid were not fruitful until President Michel Aoun, Hezbollah and Iran’s ally, unexpectedly announced last June that Zakka would soon be released. The Lebanese state previously refused to provide any legal or consulate services through its embassy in Tehran that would allow Zakka to give power of attorney to his family to secure his release.