Iranian authorities unexpectedly granted Swiss diplomats permission this past week to visit an American Navy veteran held in a prison in the country’s northeast, where they learned his cancer had recurred, his mother said Saturday.
The prisoner, Michael R. White, 47, one of at least four Americans known to be jailed in Iran, has had throat cancer. He was visiting an Iranian female friend in the northeastern city of Mashhad when he was seized more than a year ago, in July 2018.
Mr. White, of Imperial Beach, Calif., was tried and convicted on charges that included insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private photographs on social media. He was sentenced in March to 10 years in prison, and Iranian prosecutors suggested he might be charged with espionage.
“I’m at my wits’ end,” said his mother, Joanne White, who has not been able to talk with Mr. White since his imprisonment and has been communicating through Swiss diplomatic intermediaries. “I am afraid he will die there if nothing is done to bring him back.”
In a telephone interview, Mrs. White said she had been informed by State Department officials via email that the authorities had granted the Swiss a consular visit on Wednesday, the first in more than three months.
The Swiss were told that prison hospital doctors had removed a melanoma from his back three weeks earlier, according to portions of a State Department email that Mrs. White shared with The New York Times. The email also said the Swiss had been told that Mr. White “continues to have medical issues,” including dental problems related to previous chemotherapy treatments.
It was unclear whether the Iranians’ granting of a consular visit signaled that they might be laying the groundwork to release Mr. White, who has denied all the accusations against him. His conviction is under appeal.
The visit came against the backdrop of escalating tensions between Iran and the United States since President Trump renounced the Iranian nuclear agreement last year, reimposed severe economic sanctions and threatened military action if the Iranians attacked American interests in the Middle East.
At the same time, Iranian leaders, who have staked their legitimacy on defiance of the United States, have dropped hints they would be willing to negotiate with Mr. Trump.
There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials on Mr. White. American and Swiss diplomatic officials, as a matter of policy, have declined to discuss the imprisonment of any Americans incarcerated in Iran.
The Swiss Embassy looks after American affairs in Iran. The United States and Iran broke diplomatic relations nearly 40 years ago after the Iranian revolution and the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran.
There is some precedent for the release on medical grounds of Americans held by the Iranians. In 2010, Iran freed Sarah E. Shourd, who was seized with two other Americans in 2009 while hiking along the Iran-Iraq border. Held in solitary confinement for more than a year and accused of espionage, Ms. Shourd complained of a lump in her breast, which Iranian doctors had deemed benign.
Iran’s president at the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said she was being freed on medical grounds. (A payment of $500,000, which the Iranian authorities described as bail, also was made to secure her release.) Ms. Shourd’s fellow prisoners — her fiancé, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal, were freed later.
Besides Mr. White, the other Americans known to be held in Iran include Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate student, and at least two dual citizens — Siamak Namazi, a business executive, and his father, Baquer Namazi, a former Unicef diplomat. Another American, Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent, has been missing in Iran since 2007.
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